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Hodeidah: The Potential Ceasefire in Yemen's Civil War

By Alexandra Beaudry
Published 2019-02-09

Approximately 22 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance whilst 14 million face the risk of starvation. According to Krishnan Guru-Murthy, a field reporter for Unreported World web series documentaries, “Yemen’s food supply was always vulnerable, as more than 90% of it is imported through ports of Hodeidah on the Red Sea, which has been heavily bombed by the Saudi coalition.” Hodeidah is Yemen’s main entry point for medical supplies as well as food.

The delays Yemen’s offensive coalitions place on international aid supplies passing through the entry port of Hodeidah has contributed to the country’s status as “on the brink of the worst famine in modern history.” In fact, the United Nations issued an official statement Thursday relaying that provisions of grain enough to feed 3.7 millions Yemenis was left “stranded and possibly rotting in warehouses in the front-line port city of Hodeidah.” Efforts have been made from both warring sides to advance towards a resolution to this crisis. This past week, talks were held in Amman between representatives of the Saudi government and the Houthis to discuss specificities of crisis resolution tactics suggested during Sweden’s former peace intervention in December 2018. The crisis resolution strategies comprised of a ‘prison swap’ of an estimated 1600 prisoners of war, as well as “a plan for the Houthis to withdraw from the contested port city of Hodeidah and place it under the control of an interim entity.” In other words, consolidations of peace were implied to be on the horizon as both the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels proposed such truces, and the date of such exchanges was officially set as January 19 of this year. However, Abdul Qader Murtada, the head of the Houthi delegation, recently stated that such accords are not set in stone, as the government side has listed “a tenth of a total of 7500 of Houthi prisoners held in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia,” whilst it has also been reported that the Houthis have provided “3600 from an original list of 9500 names” in which manipulations of over 4000 names has occurred through “fake names, duplicate names or of prisoners who had been released.” In other words, the reluctance of both involved parties in the Yemen war to commit to their previous commitments may cost them additional months of negotiations.

It is pertinent to acknowledge how ceasefire tactics fail in Yemen due to its fragile state: “the situation on the ground remains incredibly complex [...] a step has certainly been taken in the right direction, but the road to peace remains long.” UN envoy Martin Griffiths similarly states that the date in which warring sides of the Yemen crisis had originally planned to carry out their agreements “were rather ambitious.” Dr. Abu Amin, a freelance writer and expert in counter-terrorism and international relations, agrees with this assumption since he states that it is “unlikely that any shift in balance of power for both Yemen and regional power blocs” will occur due to factors of “ground conditions, airstrikes and scud attacks.” He argues that the long-term and sustained intervention of the international community is the only viable option to end the Yemen crisis as opposed to internal Middle Eastern defense tactics. This coincides with the Houthi drone airstrikes on a Yemen government conducted in early January 2019 since it occurred “a day after the UN special envoy to Yemen said the warring parties had largely stuck to the ceasefire around Hodeidah,” resulting in either side “repeatedly accusing the other of violating the ceasefire.” Considering the “skirmishes that continue between the Houthi movement and their foes in a Saudi-led coalition fighting to restore the internationally recognized government” as well as the war’s opposing sides inability to “agree who should control the city or withdraw” it may be argued that distrust and power struggles remain consistent underlying variables that hinder effective transitions from Yemen’s state of crisis to peaceful negotiation. Additionally, Gerald M. Feierstein, former US Ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013, states that Yemen’s weak institutions contributes to the embedding of conflict: “years of fighting in Yemen reveal that the fissures dividing Yemeni society persist and will not be resolved by an end to the conflict […] the two Yemeni coalitions that are parties to the conflict are, themselves, internally fragile.” That being said, the intricacies of Yemen’s state of internal political vulnerability against Middle Eastern rivers as well as deep-rooted levels of mutual distrust hinders effective peaceful negotiation tactics implemented by the international community.


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