Peace talks in Yemen postponed until the end of the year

Discussions between Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels were due to begin this month

A displaced child from Hodeidah province carries water supplies on a donkey: a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from preventable diseases. Photograph: Essa Ahmed/ AFP

A displaced child from Hodeidah province carries water supplies on a donkey: a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from preventable diseases. Photograph: Essa Ahmed/ AFP

 

UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths has postponed until the end of the year peace talks between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels which had been due to open this month in Sweden.

Mr Griffiths has called on Saudi Arabia to halt its accelerated offensive against Yemen’s main port of Hodeidah, which has been under Houthi control since 2015. “Any military escalation does not help efforts to launch the political process. No one wants to see a catastrophe in Hodeidah,” he said.

State department under secretary David Hale renewed a US call for an end to Saudi bombing of built-up areas, about 35 per cent of the country, but did not call for an immediate ceasefire or a halt to the Hodeidah campaign.

The failure to achieve a ceasefire and the postponement of talks could permit the US-backed coalition offensive against the Houthis in and around Hodeidah to continue through December. Since 80 per cent of Yemen’s imports of food and medicine and 70 per cent of humanitarian aid pass through Hodeidah, disruption of port operations or destruction of facilities could amount to a death sentence for millions of Yemenis.

The fighting puts at risk half of Yemen’s 28 million people who already face famine.

Every 10 minutes

The UN children’s agency, Unicef, reports a child dies every 10 minutes inYemen from preventable diseases due to the lack of medicine and health facilities. Agency regional chief Geert Cappelaere said both sides were making it “impossible” to deliver aid to the country.

Instead of winding down its offensive, the Saudi-led coalition escalated attacks two weeks ago after US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary Jim Mattis called for a ceasefire and negotiations by the end of this month. UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Yemen Lise Grande warned at that time, “the uptick in violence is some of the fiercest fighting we’ve seen in months and months”. Between 150-200 people were reported killed last weekend alone.

Saudi Arabia seeks to capture Hodeidah before peace talks begin. Since the majority of Yemenis live in rebel-held western and northern Yemen, the Saudi occupation of the port halts fuel, food and medical supplies for both fighters and civilians and ends the Houthi ability to fight.

‘Terrorists’

Rather than insisting the Saudis and Emiratis cease fire and prepare for negotiations, the US is considering branding the Houthis “terrorists” to justify its strong support for its Gulf allies during a widely unpopular war. Since the Houthis are said to have Iranian backing, this would make them legitimate targets in the “war on terror” proclaimed in September 2001 in response to the attacks on New York and Washington.

Brown University’s Watson Institute put the death toll from the “war on terror” at 480,000-507,000 but argued the figure could be higher. The body count includes insurgents, local security forces, US and allied troops and civilians in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The addition of Yemen would increase the overall toll by 57,000, a figure cited by independent sources. The UN stopped counting more than two years ago when the figure was 10,000.