Coalition, UN pressure mounts on Houthis to quit Hodeidah

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UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (L) talks with Faisal Abu-Rass, the undersecretary of the Houthi-led government's foreign ministry, in Sanaa on July 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)
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President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi held a meeting in Aden with the minister of defense and other military officials. (File photo: AFP)
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UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (C) arriving at the Sanaa airport on July 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)
Updated 03 July 2018

Coalition, UN pressure mounts on Houthis to quit Hodeidah

  • President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi says the Yemeni people can no longer tolerate this absurd war any further
  • UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, arrives in Sanaa for another round of talks

RIYADH: The UN envoy for Yemen arrived in Sanaa on Monday for talks aimed at persuading Iran-backed Houthi militias to quit the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

Martin Griffiths has been shuttling between the Yemeni capital and the cities of Aden and Muscat in Oman in efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen launched a military offensive last month to capture Hodeidah from the Houthis. They quickly seized the city’s airport and drove the Houthis out, but halted the offensive last week to avoid civilian casualties in reasidential areas of the city and to make UN-brokered peace talks easier.

The port is Yemen’s main lifeline for the import of humanitarian aid, but it is also a conduit for smuggling weapons to the Houthis, including the components of missiles launched from northern Yemen and aimed at cities in Saudi Arabia.

As pressure mounts on the Houthis to quit Hodeidah and hand it over to UN control, Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi called on them to “withdraw from state institutions and surrender their weapons.”

The Yemeni people “can no longer tolerate this absurd war,” Hadi said.

He said the goal of eradicating Iran’s dangerous expansion project was close to being achieved, and Iran’s attempts to expand its influence “threaten the present and future of Yemen and its people, who reject sectarianism and Iranian ideas executed through the Houthi militia.”

At a press conference in Riyadh, coalition spokesman Col Turki Al-Maliki produced further evidence of Iranian involvement in supplying the Houthis. He displayed photos of military supplies bearing the label of Isfahan Optics Industries.

“This proves Iranian intervention in the region, and that it is procuring weapons for the Houthis,” he said.  

“The Houthis continue to destabilize normal lives for Yemeni civilians inside their own country.”

Hodeidah held the key to resolving the conflict, Al-Maliki said. With its capture by the Yemeni army backed by coalition forces “the smuggling of weapons will cease, and the mechanisms for humanitarian aid will ease.”

Al-Malki told Arab News:  “We know how the UN special envoy has been working in Yemen since he was assigned. We are supporting him to come up with a political solution.

“We do believe that a political solution is the best solution for the Yemeni people. However, the Houthis are not giving any kind of concessions to sit at the table and negotiate with the legitimate Yemeni government. All efforts made by the special envoy have been rejected or refused by the militia.

“The Houthis must make concessions. The Yemeni government, when they sit with the Houthis, I would say this is the biggest concession; that you are sitting with someone who has kidnapped and taken the legitimate government.

“The Yemeni government have explained and addressed their position. They are insisting on it. They are not refusing. It’s their right to liberate Yemeni land and their right to have the return of the legitimate government.”


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.