The Irish Times view on the war on Yemen: the world must press for peace
Over 14 million people are facing famine caused by economic blockade, hyper-inflation and systematic bombing of infrastructure, mainly orchestrated by Saudi Arabia
‘All the big countries say they are fighting each other in Yemen. But it feels to us like they are fighting the poor people.” Ali al-Hajaji, a Yemeni villager whose seven-year-old daughter Amal Hussein died of hunger last week, encapsulated in this remark how the Yemeni war has inflicted such catastrophic suffering. Over 14 million of its 23 million people are facing famine caused by economic blockade, hyper-inflation and systematic bombing of critical infrastructure, mainly orchestrated by Saudi Arabia. It is now imperative that the latest international moves to secure a ceasefire and revive peace talks are acted upon and implemented.
The Saudis say they have intervened in Yemen’s civil war since 2015 to restore its president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power after he was ousted by Houthi rebels from the north of the country. They say the rebels are acting on Iran’s behalf and with its aid, notably in the missile attacks on Saudi targets launched from Yemen.
Their evidence for such a powerful and directing Iranian role is weak, even though it has convinced key Saudi allies like the United States and Britain to support the war led by its heir apparent Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He has political and military support from the United Arab Emirates.
It took the international publicity and outrage surrounding the murder of the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of its regime to concentrate attention also on Yemen’s catastrophe, for which Riyadh is largely responsible. The evidence here is so strong that it gave an opportunity for the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis to call for an end to the fighting in Yemen and a resumption of United Nations negotiations.
A balanced ceasefire allowing humanitarian aid to relieve a huge famine threat is an urgent necessity for the international community
Critics point out that their proposal is not even-handed, in that it urges the Houthi rebels to stop attacks on Saudi and Emirati targets before Saudi bombing of urban areas ceases and does not mention their attacks on rural infrastructure where most people live. This formula could allow the Saudis and their allies reinforce the economic and aid blockade of the Houthi-held Red Sea port of Hodeida which is a prime cause of the famine.
UN talks collapsed in September after they were boycotted by the Houthi side, who object to a Security Council resolution calling on them to surrender areas they have captured. The civil war arose from their rebellion against government proposals to decentralise power in the country, depriving many areas of proper sharing in oil revenues, the country’s principal income earner. Unless these longer-term issues are addressed it will not be possible to find a peace settlement. In the meantime a balanced ceasefire allowing humanitarian aid to relieve a huge famine threat is an urgent necessity for the international community.