image Photo: Reuters

US calls for de-escalation in Yemen

The development comes in the wake of Houthi strikes on the UAE, and fierce retaliation on the Iran-backed group by a Saudi-led military coalition.

By Erin Viner

“The escalation in fighting only exacerbates a dire humanitarian crisis and the suffering of the Yemeni people,” said United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement released by the State Department.

Blinken later released a separate statement describing the heightening of the conflict as of “great concern” to Washington.

The top US diplomate also spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud on Friday to reaffirm the White House commitment to help Gulf allies improve their defense, while underscoring “the importance of mitigating civilian harm,” said the State Department.

Violence between the sides has raged since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally-recognized government from Yemen’s capital Sanaa. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, with millions of others displaced from the country, which has been pushed to the verge of famine.

The Yemen war is widely seen as a proxy conflict between arch-foes Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran. In recent months, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had made efforts to engage directly with Tehran to minimize eruption of a wider conflict that could damage regional economic ambitions

Earlier this month, a confidential United Nations document provided “detailed evidence” that Iran is exporting arms to Yemen and elsewhere in violation of a UN Security Council (UNSC)-imposed embargo has been in effect since 2015 against arms shipments to the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement.

The latest surge in fighting erupted last Monday 17 January when the Houthi rebels carried out an unprecedented assault on coalition member United Arab Emirates that killed 3 people, followed by additional missile and drones launches at Saudi cities.

Israel immediately offered defense support to the UAE, which which it normalized relations in the 2020 Abraham Accords.

“We stand ready to offer you security and intelligence support in order to help you protect your citizens from similar attacks,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett wrote in an official letter sent to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, in which also he relayed Jerusalem’s deep condolences for the deadly terrorist strike on Monday.

“I have ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide their counterparts in the UAE with any assistance, should you be interested,” added Prime Minister Bennett.

The UNSC condemned the Houthi attack on the UAE and other sites in Saudi Arabia after a closed-door meeting requested by the UAE. The UAE joined the 15-member Council this month for a 2-year term.

The Saudi-led coalition hit back hard with overnight strikes 17-18 January on Sanaa, that Houthi media and residents said left at least 20 dead. Some 14 of the fatalities died when witnesses said coalition jets struck the home of a high-ranking Houthi military official, including his wife and son.

At least 60 people at a detention center in the Houthi-held Saada province were killed in coalition strikes on Friday. A witness cited by Reuters said several people, including African migrants, died in the attack.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres condemned air strikes during a news conference on Friday, insisting that, “This escalation needs to stop.”

Guterres’ Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said further deadly air strikes had been reported elsewhere in Yemen with children among those killed, as well as “telecommunications facilities in Hodeida” that “significantly disrupted vital internet services across much of the country.”

The Secretary General is calling for “prompt, effective and transparent investigations into these incidents to ensure accountability” and reminds all parties that they are obliged to “ensure that civilians are protected against the dangers arising from military operations, adhering to the principles of proportionality, distinction and precaution,” Dujarric said in a statement.

The Save the Children issued a statement reporting the deaths of 3 children in the western city of Hodeidah.

While the Saudi-led military coalition maintains it targeted only Houthi military sites, it said the Friday campaign will be investigated “using an internationally approved, independent process.”

When asked about the air strikes on Yemen on Friday, UAE UN Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh told reporters that, “The coalition undertake to abide by international law and proportionate response in all its military operations.”