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.”

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”