Yemen conflict: The view from the Saudi side

BBC article by Frank Gardner

Tall, bearded and wearing a pained expression, an elderly Saudi man called Jaber stands before the ruins of his family house in the town of Najran, just north of the border with war-torn Yemen.

The whitewashed walls of his house are pockmarked with blast marks and jagged holes gouged by flying shrapnel.

"Yesterday at 5.15 in the afternoon," he told me, "came an explosion from Yemen. My family were sitting just over there," he pointed to an abandoned mattress on the ground.

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Funeral bombing - video of aftermath

Mobile phone video shows shock and grief in aftermath of Saudi air strike on Yemeni funeral on 8 October 2016

Watch video here

A Roar at a Funeral, and Yemen’s War Is Altered

By SHUAIB ALMOSAWA and BEN HUBBARD for The New York Times

SANA, Yemen — Large speakers played verses from the Quran as hundreds of mourners filed through the fanciest reception hall in Sana, the capital, to pay their respects to a prominent family after the death of its patriarch.

Then there was a roar, the hall shook, and the guests were knocked to the floor and enveloped in fire and smoke. Some rushed for the exits as parts of the ceiling collapsed, trapping others under the rubble.

“We did not think they would attack a funeral,” said Abdulla al-Shamy, 27, a clothing salesman who was in the hall at the time. “We did not think they would be so vile.”

The attack on Saturday, which Yemeni officials and witnesses said was a series of airstrikes by the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, killed more than 100 people and unleashed political forces that could drastically change the course of Yemen’s war.

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Airstrikes on Yemen funeral kill at least 140 people, UN official says

Article for theguardian by Nadia Khomani

Houthi rebels say Saudi-led coalition to blame for attack on ceremony that left at least another 525 wounded

More than 140 people were killed and more than 525 wounded when airstrikes hit a funeral ceremony in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, a senior UN official has said, as Houthi rebels blamed the attack on the Saudi-led coalition.

The dead and wounded include senior military and security officials from the ranks of the Shia Houthi rebels fighting the internationally recognised government of president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as well as their allies, loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

In the aftermath of the strike on Saturday, hundreds of body parts were found strewn in and outside the hall. Rescuers collected them in sacks. “The place has been turned into a lake of blood,” said one rescuer, Murad Tawfiq.

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Airstrike kills more than 100, injures hundreds at Yemen funeral

Washington Post article by Ali Al-Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan

SANAA, Yemen — An airstrike by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds more at a funeral Saturday, according to Health Ministry officials and medical groups. With the death toll expected to rise, it was one of the deadliest single assaults in the 20-month-old civil conflict that has fractured the Middle East’s poorest country.

Witnesses said at least three airstrikes hit the Grand Hall, one of the biggest arenas in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, as mourners gathered inside to attend a funeral for the father of a top rebel Houthi official. In attendance were senior political and military officials aligned with the Houthis and hundreds of civilians, according to witnesses.

As explosions rocked the hall at around 3:30 p.m., chaos ensued as people tried to rush toward the exits. Many jumped through a large opening in a wall that had crumbled, said Mohammed Ahmed al-Sunaidar, an Interior Ministry employee. He was just arriving at the hall and ran inside to help survivors.

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US security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check

MPs call for UK to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia

BBC News article

The UK should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia while Saudi actions in neighbouring Yemen are investigated, a draft report by MPs has said.

The Committees on Arms Export Controls said it was highly likely that weapons had been used to violate international humanitarian and human rights laws.

The draft report has been seen by the BBC's Newsnight programme.

The UK government said it had received assurances from Saudi Arabia but the committee said this was not sufficient.

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Boris Johnson defends UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Article by Patrick Wintour for theguardian

Foreign secretary says breaches of international law during Yemen airstrikes were not proven, as MPs prepare to call for ban on UK exports

The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has defended UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen is not “in clear breach” of international humanitarian law.

This week MPs will decide whether to call for a ban on arms sales to Saudi in light of allegations of indiscriminate bombing by the Saudi-led coalition during the 18-month-old Yemen civil war.

In a written statement to parliament, Johnson says: “The key test for our continued arms exports to Saudi Arabia in relation to international humanitarian law is whether those weapons might be used in a commission of a serious breach of international humanitarian law. Having regard to all the information available to us, we assess this test has not been met.”

His judgment is based largely on an Saudi-led inquiry into eight controversial incidents, including the bombing of hospitals. The report, published on 4 August, largely defended the bombing runs on the basis that the Saudis had received credible intelligence that enemy Houthi forces were in the area. In one case it offered compensation to the victims.

Defending the credibility of a Saudi-led inquiry exonerating Saudi targeting, Johnson said: “They have the best insight into their own procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations. It will also allow the coalition forces to work out what went wrong and apply the lessons learned in the best possible way. This is the standard we set ourselves and our allies.”

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Saudi Arabia Warns the UN and Aid Workers in Yemen

Article for Vice News by Samuel Oakford:

The Saudi government has sent letters to the United Nations and to aid agencies operating in Yemen, stating that they should leave areas under Houthi control in order to be safe from bombing, VICE News can reveal.

An initial letter was sent by the Saudi mission in Geneva on February 5 to the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The "note verbale" — French for "verbal note," a kind of diplomatic communication — requested that OCHA "notify all the international organizations working in Yemen about the necessity of relocating their headquarters outside the military operations areas to be away from regions where the Houthi militias and the groups belonging to them are activating, in order for the Coalition forces to guarantee the safety and security of the international organizations." A similar letter, addressed to "International Organisations and their employees," and marked "urgent," was sent out on the same day by the Saudi embassy in London.

Houthi rebels and their allies loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh control areas where the majority of Yemen's population lives, including the capital Sanaa, where most aid organizations and UN operations are headquartered.

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MY COMMENT
This is very worrying. In their next assault on Sanaa, the Saudis want no foreign observers on the ground. They have also just bombed Sanaa's Nehm exchange, seriously degrading Yemen's internet connection to the outside world. They want to silence Yemeni witnesses by cutting them off from the outside world, and kick out the foreign witnesses. This should raise major alarm bells in governments around the world!

90 Seconds: Leaked UN panel report on Yemen

Summary video by Middle East Eye:



Yemen: Is Peace Possible?

Report by CrisisGroup.org:

Nearly a year on, there is no end in sight to Yemen’s war. The conflict pits Ansar Allah (Huthi) rebels and military units allied with ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh against a diverse mix of opponents, including what remains of the government of President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led coalition supported by the U.S., the UK and France. Ending the war requires negotiations leading to an interim settlement that must include security arrangements providing for militia withdrawal from cities, a return to the political process pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and agreement on a transitional leadership. While these are matters for Yemeni parties to decide during UN-sponsored negotiations, Saudi Arabia’s buy-in will be essential, spooked as the kingdom is by what it perceives as an Iranian hand behind the Huthis and their attacks on Saudi territory. Reaching agreement will take time, a luxury Yemenis do not have. The immediate priority thus should be to secure agreement on delivering humanitarian aid and commercial goods to war-torn, besieged areas.

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(This report attempts to explain the reasons behind the Yemen conflict, the various parties involved, and suggested steps each of these parties should take to facilitate a negotiated peace settlement)

MPs call for immediate halt of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Article for theguardian by Patrick Wintour:

An all-party group of MPs has called for an immediate suspension of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and an international independent inquiry into the kingdom’s military campaign in Yemen.

The call from the international development select committee follows evidence from aid agencies to MPs warning that Saudi Arabia was involved in indiscriminate bombing of its neighbour.

The UK government has supplied export licences for close to £3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in the last year, the committee said, and has also been accused of being involved in the conduct and administration of the Saudi campaign in Yemen.

In their letter to the international development secretary, Justine Greening, it urged the UK to withdraw opposition to an independent international inquiry into alleged abuses of humanitarian law in Yemen.

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View the International Development Committee's report here

Watch the 27 January International Development Committee's enquiry sessions on my Parliament page

UN: UK fuelling Yemen civil war with arms sales to Saudi Arabia


UK's International Development Committee - Government and stakeholders questioned on humanitarian crisis in Yemen

Wednesday 27 January 2016, Committee Room 8, Palace of Westminster

The International Development Committee hears from non-governmental organisations and from Department of International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the UK Government's response.

Purpose of the session
This session covers the scale of the crisis and how effectively DFID and other strands of Government have responded to protect civilians and ensure adherence to international humanitarian law.

Watch the video here

View a written transcript of the meetings here

MY COMMENT
This is a video of two one-hour meetings. If you have the time to watch it, it gives an invaluable insight into the UK's response to the Yemen Crisis.

In the first meeting at 1pm, the committee questions a panel of four expert witnesses on the Yemen crisis, as follows:

Julien Harneis, Head of UNICEF Yemen
Josephine Hutton, Regional Programme Manager, Middle East, Oxfam
Grant Pritchard, Director of Advocacy, Media and Communications on Yemen, Save the Children
Roy Isbister, Head of Arms Unit, Saferworld

I found this meeting encouraging in that it demonstrates that DfID (the Department for International Development) has a real desire to understand the facts about Yemen and to provide humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. However, it is also very clear from this meeting that the UK has a paradoxical policy towards Yemen. On the one hand, DfID is providing humanitarian assistance. On the other hand, the policy of the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) to support the Saudi-led coalition and to continue its licencing of arms sales to Saudi is undermining the efforts of DfID. The first meeting makes it very clear that the UK must stop its arms sales to Saudi.


In the second meeting at 2.00pm, the committee questions the following members of the UK government:

Rt Hon Desmond Swayne MP, Minister of State for International Development
Juliette John, Head of DFID Yemen, Department for International Development
Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Nicholas Alton, Deputy Head of Arabian Peninsula and Iran, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

This second meeting is very disappointing in that it demonstrates the government's clear and unwavering support for the Saudi-led coalition, as well as justification for its refusal to support the Dutch call for an independent enquiry into human rights violations in Yemen. The meeting closes with the chair saying, "On that rather unsatisfactory note, I think we have run out of time", which about says it all.


European Parliament resolution on the humanitarian situation in Yemen

MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION, submitted 27/1/16

Read the full text of the motion here

Yemen: the devastation of a nation, largely ignored

Article by Labour MP Stephen Twigg for theguardian

We are waiting to see when we will die” – the words of a resident of the besieged city of Taiz in Yemen, retold by a British Yemeni at a meeting with cross-party MPs in Westminster last week.

Taiz has been under siege by rebels for months, cut off from humanitarian aid, with no electricity, no schools, and where the vast majority of health facilities have closed.

Britain’s international development committee (IDC) had invited representatives of the Yemeni diaspora to contribute to our inquiry into the crisis in Yemen. We were shocked to hear about the desperate situation in Taiz, which bears a worrying resemblance to Madaya in Syria. But the world is watching Syria while the crisis in Yemen is largely ignored.

The crisis is having a devastating effect on the whole country. According to the UN (pdf), an astonishing 82% of the population needs humanitarian assistance - 21.2 million people, compared with 12.2 million in Syria. The food situation is particularly concerning, with 14.4 million people struggling to find enough to eat, including 1.3 million children who are acutely malnourished. Millions cannot access safe water or basic healthcare and 1.8 million children are out of school. The Yemeni diaspora described the situation as collective punishment, with the population being punished for the actions of the rebels.

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Who Voted to Bomb Yemen? Asks Angus Robertson SNP

goingundergroundRT video:

Afshin Rattansi goes underground on British backed airstrikes in Yemen with leader of the SNP in Westminster Angus Robertson. We talk about the UK military support for the Saudi-led coalition.

British and US military 'in command room' for Saudi strikes on Yemen

Article for theguardian by Emma Graham-Harrison:

British and American military officials are in the command and control centre for Saudi airstrikes on Yemen, and have access to lists of targets, although they do not play any role in choosing them, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister has said.

Human rights groups, the European parliament and the UN have all expressed concerns about airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, in support of the internationally recognised government.

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Philip Hammond says he wants UK to sell even more weapons to Saudi Arabia

Article for The Independent by Jon Stone:

Britain should sell more weapons to the Saudi Arabian regime despite the fact they are being used by the country as part of its military operations in Yemen, the Foreign Secretary has said.

Philip Hammond said he was aware that human rights violations by Saudi Arabian forces operating in the country had been reported but said the Saudis denied these allegations.

Saudi Arabia has been blockading Yemen since March this year and is launching airstrikes in the country’s territory.

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Saudi-Backed Forces Said to Wrest Aden, Yemen, From Houthis

Article by SAEED AL-BATATI and KAREEM FAHIM for the New York Times

AL MUKALLA, Yemen — The exiled Yemeni government said Friday that Saudi-backed fighters had “completely liberated” the southern city of Aden from the Houthi rebels who had tried for months to bring it under their control.

Witnesses in the city said that at least one neighborhood was still contested and that Houthi snipers remained active in several others. But rapid gains by the anti-Houthi fighters over the past few days appeared hard to reverse and potentially gave Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing the Houthis since late March and backing their opponents, its first battlefield victory.

The Yemeni prime minister, Khaled Bahah, called the gains a “historic moment” and said his government would quickly turn to repairing the devastation in Aden. The steady destruction of the city, Yemen’s second largest, has come to symbolize the hardships and horrors visited on civilians, including shelling, airstrikes and chronic shortages of water and electricity.

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