The Houthis have rejected the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) offer to broker comprehensive peace talks in Riyadh between the warring factions.
The six-member GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
The Houthis said they would not attend talks in Riyadh, because Saudi Arabia cannot be a mediator or host since it’s a party in the war. “Riyadh is a party in the war not a mediator,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the movement’s supreme revolutionary committee, said in a Twitter post.
The Houthis say they would instead be open to talks in a “neutral country.” GCC member states Kuwait and Oman have attempted to mediate in the past.
The GCC Secretary-General Nayef al-Hajraf told reporters Thursday that the talks planned for March 29 through April 7 were the latest effort to try and bring the Yemenis to the negotiating table.
Al-Hajraf did not name the Houthis specifically but said the GCC “invites all Yemenis without exception to take part in these talks with the goal of discussing political, military, security, economic and development obstacles in Yemen.”
Dr. Nayef Al-Hajraf told a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday that the consultations are aimed at uniting ranks, bridging the rift between the conflicting sides, supporting legitimacy and strengthening state institutions.
“Invitations to the Yemen talks will be sent to everyone and they will be held with whoever attends,” Al-Hajraf said.
“The GCC will host the talks between Yemeni factions to resolve the crisis. We urge all Yemeni parties to cease fire and start peace talks.”
There have been no substantial peace talks since the 2018 negotiations in Sweden that ended fighting in and around the port city of Hodeida.
Since then, the Houthis have pressed offensives in northern and central Yemen, reaching the outskirts of the crucial city of Marib, the last stronghold for the government in northern Yemen. The Houthis control northern regions bordering Saudi Arabia.
Yemen’s conflict erupted in September 2014 when the Houthis overran the capital and forced the government into exile. The war has killed tens of thousands of people, including at least 14,500 civilians, according to the Associated Press.
A U.N. appeal on Wednesday raised $1.3 billion, less than a third of what had been targeted to help Yemenis avoid starvation. Some 161,000 people are likely to experience famine in Yemen in 2022.
The conflict is largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Houthis continue to battle US-backed coalition forces on the ground in energy-producing Marib, the the Saudi-backed Yemeni government’s last stronghold in North Yemen.
Civilian casualties in Yemen war
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the total number of Yemenis killed in the ongoing war has doubled since the withdrawal of UN-mandated international monitoring of the human rights situation in the country in October last year.
The NRC in a press release on February 10, demanded the immediate restoration of such a mandate to ensure accountability of the parties responsible for committing human rights violations.
The data collected by the NRC, which is involved in providing humanitarian relief in war-torn countries including Yemen, states that the number of civilians killed or injured four months prior to the end of international monitoring was 823. In the four months since, the total number of civilians injured or killed went up to 1,535.
The withdrawal of UN human rights monitoring also coincided with an increase in airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen. According to the NRC, the number of airstrikes has multiplied by 39 times since October. Similar conclusions were made by the Yemen Data Project. According to them, 2021 ended with “224% month on month increase in civilian casualty from the 16 months high in November.”
According to the Yemen Data Project, both December and January have seen massive increase in airstrikes and civilian casualties inside Yemen, with January being the “most violent month in the air war in over 5 years.” At least 139 civilians were killed and 287 were injured in the air raids carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, taking the total deaths in such strikes since 2015 to over 19,000.
The Yemen Data Project also concluded that the total number of Yemenis killed in January 2022 in the coalition airstrikes is higher than the last two years combined.
Overshadowed by the Ukraine War
Yemen must not become a forgotten crisis behind Ukraine, organizers of Wednesday’s UN pledging conference said, warning of catastrophic hunger if donations were not forthcoming.
The United Nations seeks to raise over $4 billion at a pledging event on Wednesday for war-torn Yemen where the humanitarian drive has seen funding dry up even before global attention turned to the crisis in Ukraine.
“Today we are meeting to plug a huge gap in funding for the life-saving response,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths told reporters.
“The war is in its seventh year and counting. The economy lies in ruins. Basic services are collapsing,” he added.
“This year’s response needs nearly $4.3 billion to help over 17 million people across Yemen.”
“While Ukraine understandably and rightly requires our urgent attention and focus right now, we cannot drop the ball on other crises,” said Swedish foreign ministry official Carl Skau.
The UN received just over half the $3.4 billion needed in 2020 while last year, donors gave $2.3 billion.
The World Food Program warned on Monday that without substantial new funding mass starvation and famine would follow.
Donor budgets were strained by the pandemic, the Afghanistan crisis and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: [email protected]