ALEXANDRIA: Yemen human rights activists, politicians, journalists, and residents of Taiz have demanded that government and international mediators include the lifting of the city’s siege by Iran-backed Houthis in any peace initiative to end the war in the country.
Fearing being shut out of the current UN-brokered peace initiative that largely focused on Sanaa, residents of the besieged southern Yemeni city and human rights activists said the Houthis should stop their military operations and continued shelling of the city’s densely populated districts under any deal to bring the conflict to a close.
In a tweet as part of an online campaign to focus world attention on the Taiz siege, Yemeni activist Abdullah Al-Sharabe said: “Ending the siege of Taiz unconditionally is the demand of all Yemenis, and no one opposes this human desire except the Houthi criminals who imposed the siege.”
According to Yemeni and UN officials, and Western diplomats, the UN-brokered peace initiative calls for an immediate nationwide ceasefire, the reopening of Sanaa airport, the lifting of restrictions on Hodeidah port, and the resumption of peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis.
But Taiz residents claim too much focus has been placed on easing restrictions in Houthi-controlled areas without including the Houthi siege as one of the peace conditions.
However, UN Yemen envoy spokeswoman, Ismini Palla, told Arab News that the Houthis would lift their siege of Taiz at the same time as the warring factions put into place a ceasefire.
“The proposed nationwide ceasefire in that plan aims not only to halt all forms of fighting but also result in the opening of main roads connecting the country from north to south, including Taiz, for the free movement of civilians, commercial goods, and humanitarian aid,” she said.
The Yemeni government said it would not agree to any peace plan that did not include lifting the siege of Taiz and removing Houthi checkpoints from Yemeni cities.
“Opening roads, ensuring freedom of movement for citizens, and lifting the siege on cities, especially the city of Taiz, are among the basic issues that the government puts at the forefront of its priorities,” the Yemeni Foreign Ministry said.
Facing stiff resistance from army troops and resistance fighters in the city, the Houthis have imposed a siege on Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, since early 2015, in the process disrupting the distribution of vital humanitarian and medical assistance to thousands of hungry residents and turning a deaf ear to international calls to lift the blockade.
At the same time, the group has reportedly deployed snipers near its checkpoints to shoot any residents trying to enter or leave government-controlled areas of the city.
Speaking to Arab News from Taiz, Aqmar, a housewife, said people had been forced to use dangerous and unpaved roads to get food and medicines into the city and that the Houthi siege had pushed up transportation fares and exacerbated the suffering of the people.
“We travel only when there is an extreme necessity as bus fares are between 10,000 Yemeni rials ($40) and 15,000 rials per passenger,” she added.
She pointed out that over the years the siege had gone on, the Houthis had clamped down on freedoms of movement and that her sick grandmother who lived in a rural area outside of Taiz had died while on her way to the city to receive medical treatment.
Local rights groups claim Houthi shelling of the city has killed and wounded thousands of civilians over the past six years. Taiz Human Rights Center has put the civilian death toll from Houthi missile and artillery strikes at 1,462, including 443 children and 180 women, with 8,996 people left wounded.