'Foreign interests' behind Houthi rejection of UN deal, Yemen's government says

Militant group accused of 'incomprehensible intransigence' on several key issues

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Yemen's government accused the Houthi rebels of being subservient to foreign interests after the group refused to renew a UN-brokered truce that expired on Sunday.

Majed Al Fadhail, Yemen's deputy minister of human rights, told The National that the group “does not want peace”.

“The truce included a ceasefire, payment of civil servants, opening of roads, operational flights to and from Sanaa and the flow of oil,” Mr Al Fadhail said.

“The refusal shows the militias are driven by foreign agendas dictated to them from Iran.”

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg visited Iran last month to rally support for UN efforts to end hostilities in the country and later lauded Tehran's open support for the detente.

After talks with both sides over the past month, Mr Grundberg said he had submitted a newer version of the truce proposal on Saturday.

The UN official was hoping for an extension and expansion of the truce so that its fourth iteration would last for six months instead of two.

The Houthi Supreme Political Council rejected the UN proposal and accused the government and supporting Saudi-led coalition of “a lack of understanding of the ordinary Yemeni person's plight”.

The UN envoy said he is “grateful for the constructive engagement at the leadership level from both sides”, praising the Yemeni government for “engaging positively” with the UN proposal.

“I will continue to work with both sides to try and find solutions,” he said.

A day after the truce expired, Iran once again said that there was a “need for the extension of the ceasefire in Yemen”, per a statement published by state news outlet IRNA.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian also “emphasised the great importance of ending the siege of the Yemeni war-struck nation”, in a phone call with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, IRNA reported.

Iran accuses the Saudi-led coalition, which was formed to support the government after Houthis took over the capital Sanaa in 2014, of being behind the so-called siege on the country.

Sticking points in new Yemen ceasefire proposal

The UN said the proposal covered sticking points between the warring sides including the payment of civil servants, which had been suspended for at least six years, and the reopening of the roads around the besieged city of Taez.

At the weekend, the Houthi Supreme Political Council released a document explaining its reasons for rejecting the UN proposal, in which it accused the Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition of “intentionally causing delays” to fuel ships at the port of Hodeidah for financial gains and “imposing arbitrary measures and restrictions”.

It also claimed the government was “looting” revenue generated through the imports.

On Monday, Yemen's government clarified some of what it called “inaccuracies” in the Houthi statement.

As part of the truce, the government allowed fuel ships to enter the port of Hodeidah since the Houthis reneged on a 2019 deal that allowed revenue from fuel imports to be used to pay civil servant salaries.

“The Houthi militia looted the amounts it received through the central bank branch in Hodeidah and refrained from offering any data on the movement of the account or funds according to the provisions of the agreement, creating the successive fuel crisis,” Saba, Yemen's state-owned news outlet, reported.

However, even after the government allowed ships to enter the port per the April ceasefire agreement, the Houthis created another hurdle for incoming ships.

“After the regular entry of oil derivates into the port of Hodeidah for five months, the Houthis prevented traders from submitting their documents directly to the office of the UN envoy in accordance with the agreed mechanism, which led to the accumulation of ships and a crisis in oil derivatives last month,” Saba said.

The news outlet added that the Houthis showed “incomprehensible intransigence” on the issue of Taez, especially as they only agreed to open roads that were strategic to the group militarily or roads that were “bumpy and not qualified for the passage of commercial trucks”, effectively rendering them “useless” in the overall lifting of the siege.

Taez connects the country's north and south and has so far been relatively isolated from the rest of Yemen because of the Houthis' closure of access roads.

“The Houthi militia fabricated complicated requirements regarding the opening of the main roads between cities, including the imposition of levies on the roads that were proposed to be opened according to the armistice agreement,” Saba reported.

“However, in order to make the truce a success … the government allowed on an exceptional basis the entry of ships that were prohibited.”

Fuel imports had generated more than 203 billion Yemeni riyals ($9bn) since the truce began, the government said.

A return to war?

What happens next in uncertain. Although only minor skirmishes have been reported around Taez and other governorates since the ceasefire lifted, the prospect of an all-out war remains open.

Jacob Alsufyani, director of the Aden-based South24 Centre for News and Studies, said the truce period failed to bring both sides closer to resolving key issues.

“Despite its success at reducing violence, escalations and fighting by a large degree, the truce seems like it was a temporary pause button for all of Yemen's problems and a way of delaying them to a later date,” he told The National.

Although major issues remain, particularly the payment of at least 1.25 million civil servant salaries, Mr Alsufyani said it is premature to conclude with certainty that Yemen is going back to a state of war.

“It's too early to say that the truce has failed or that there is a return to war. We know that international pressures are very strongly in favour of extending the truce, and we know that local and regional negotiations are ongoing until this very moment,” he said.

Similarly, Yemen's former deputy foreign minister Mustapha Al Noman believes it is unlikely that war will erupt “anytime soon” and that there is still room for talks.

“All differences can be negotiated between sides but the truce must be extended,” he said.

Updated: October 04, 2022, 7:05 AM