Nearly seven years after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in Yemen's civil conflict, transforming it into a full-scale war, the prospects for peacemaking remain remote.
Pro-government Yemeni militias, operating with Saudi and Emirati support, have this week conducted co-ordinated offensives to drive rebel Houthi forces from strategic territory in the centre of the country.
Saudi affiliates seized portions of Bayda province while Emirati-trained and armed tribesmen belonging to the "Giants Brigades" drove the Houthis from Shabwa province, Yemen's third largest. Both these provinces border on Marib province where the Houthis have been battling pro-government holdouts since last February.
The offensives coincided with a meeting of the UN Security Council at which special envoy Hans Grunberg called on combatants to "talk, even if they are not ready to put down their arms".
He described the escalation as "the worst [fighting] seen in Yemen for years", citing Saudi air strikes on the Houthi-held capital Sana'a, and the cities of Taiz and Hodeidah and the recent capture by the Houthis of an Emirati military landing craft carrying weapons and equipment.
Mr Grunberg said the “prevailing belief of all warring sides seems to be that inflicting sufficient harm on the other will force them into submission. However, there is no sustainable long-term solution to be found on the battlefield.”
Writing in the US magazine the New Republic on Thursday, Washington's Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft director Trita Parsi and researcher Annelle Shaline criticised the US administration for selling missiles to Saudi Arabia, although president Joe Biden had promised to end the war.
They said the latest round of violence “demonstrates that US support continues to embolden the Saudis, Emiratis, and the [Saudi-sponsored] government, perpetuating a war that has already claimed 377,000 Yemeni lives”.
They argued that the US capture of 1,400 assault rifles and 226,000 rounds of ammunition “from a vessel originating from Iran” did not compare with $650 million (€570m) worth of advanced weapons provided by the US.
At least 16 million of Yemen's 28 million people are in desperate straits, UN assistant secretary general Ramesh Rajasingham told the Security Council. He said $3.9 billion was needed to provide them with food, water, healthcare and protection.
He warned that the war was “causing hunger, displacement, economic collapse and the deterioration of basic services”, adding that limited medical care was “leaving one woman dying every two hours during childbirth from almost entirely preventable causes”.
Due to fighting 15,000 people were displaced in the past month and 358 civilians killed or injured in December, he said.
Civil conflict commenced in 2014 when the Houthis seized Sana’a, expelled interim president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and swung southwards toward Aden port. With arms supplies and logistical support from the US and Britain, the Saudis and Emiratis intervened in March 2015 to halt the Houthi advance and rescue Mr Hadi’s government.
Iran responded by providing political and eventually limited military aid to the Houthis. External interference transformed the local conflict in the region's poorest country into a regional and international proxy war that has killed 377,000, according to the UN.