The crisis in Yemen has shown itself to be far from over, with attacks this week from both Houthi forces and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government harboring deaths in amounts not seen since 2019. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia targeted the Yemeni capital of Sanaa with airstrikes that left at least 20 dead, including civilians, in the deadliest single attack in years. The strikes were launched in response to the attack Houthi forces carried out Monday against the United Arab Emirates, a member of the Saudi-led coalition, using missiles and drones to hit the Abu Dhabi International Airport and a nearby oil facility, killing three. On Friday, another Saudi airstrike on a prison in Saada killed at least 60, with Reuters reporting three children amongst the dead.
These attacks are the latest in a pattern of intensifying violence, as fighting renewed on the frontlines this month around the northern city of Marib and in the southern province of Shabwa.
In response to Monday’s attacks, United States President Joe Biden has considered re-designating the Houthis, often accused of being supported by Iran, as a terrorist organization, after dropping that designation last January in order to allow aid to flow more easily into Yemen. According to Oxfam America policy advocacy director Scott Paul, this move would only make accessing healthcare and resources harder for Yemeni civilians without providing “any useful leverage” over the Houthis. Paul urged the president to reconsider.
U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said the Office is “deeply concerned by the continuing escalation of the conflict in Yemen.” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres released a statement condemning the attacks and appealing to both sides, reminding “all parties” of their “obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians” and urging both sides to “engage constructively and without preconditions” to “reach a comprehensive negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Yemen.”
This week’s attacks and the intense fighting that preceded them unfortunately reveal that, despite the toll on the Yemeni people, seven years of war have neither dampened the bellicosity of either side nor dispelled foreign governments’ interests.
The fact that this crisis has persisted so long is a monument to folly and tragedy. Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when Houthi rebels, officially the Ansar Allah, took the capital of Sanaa, with Saudi Arabia and a coalition of neighboring states including the U.A.E. intervening in 2015. The principal actors have remained the same since; the conflict they’ve fought has only grown in viciousness, while the human toll stretches ever greater. Houthi forces have occupied southwestern Yemen since taking Sanaa, and both sides have attacked beyond the front lines, with Saudi airstrikes attacking Houthi held cities and Houthi missiles and rockets targeting Saudi territory. Meanwhile, the Saudi-backed coalition has strained as the conflicting goals of the internationally-recognized Hadi regime and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council have resulted in small-scale clashes.
Suffering has been the lot of the people of Yemen for seven long years while the soldiers continue to fight around them. Starvation, disease, and economic collapse have been the everyday reality for millions of Yemeni people in what remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. According to the International Rescue Committee, 15.6 million Yemeni live in extreme poverty, and despite 54% of Yemenis facing food insecurity, the World Food Program is reducing its food assistance due to a lack of funding. Sadly, none of this has affected the dispositions of the warring factions. If not this, what level of suffering could?
The international community needs to find a new approach to ending this conflict, beginning with soundly condemning the killing of civilians. The coalition’s airstrikes have been severe and are escalating the conflict, and those with ties to the coalition, namely the U.S., need to reconsider how their support is enabling this violence. Clearly the anguish of the Yemeni people will not avert this crisis, so a new approach targeting the willingness of its principal contributors must be found, while providing aid to those in Yemen who need it.
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