Yemen urges US to increase political pressure on Houthi rebels

Foreign minister tells The National country needs strong government to pave route to peace

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak attends at the 17th IISS Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital. courtesy: Yemeni Foreign Ministry
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Yemen’s government is calling on the US to intensify political pressure on Houthi rebels and accelerate efforts to end the war, Foreign Minister Ahmed Awab bin Mubarak said on Saturday.

The Iran-backed rebels stormed Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014, ousting the government and triggering a civil war that has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

The fighting has continued despite several rounds of talks and peace initiatives by the UN and international community, with the rebels currently waging a major offensive on Marib, the government's only stronghold in the north.

“The Houthis will not come to the table without diplomatic pressure, more economic sanctions and more military pressure from our side especially in Marib,” Mr Mubarak told The National on the sidelines of the annual Manama Dialogue in Bahrain.

Yemen needs increased “support to ensure a functioning and strong government on the ground, which can pave the route for peace processes and force the Houthis to the negotiating table”, he said.

Mr Mubarak praised former US president Donald Trump’s administration for designating the rebels as a terror organisation and including three of its leaders on the global terrorist list before he left office in January.

President Joe Biden’s administration lifted the designation in February to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country, which is facing widespread famine.

“The administration of former US president Donald Trump listed the Houthis as a terror group and the recent decision to remove the group from this had a negative impact because it was interpreted by the Houthis wrongly,” Mr Mubarak said.

The rebels stormed the US Embassy compound in Sanaa in early November and detained Yemeni staff who were working there in a caretaker capacity after the embassy was closed in 2015. Following the raid, the US Treasury Department last week sanctioned senior Houthi military officer Saleh Mesfer Alshaer for using what it called "unlawful tactics".

“This is a typical Houthi way of sending a message,” Mr Mubarak said. The rebels are attempting to “feed propaganda of a so-called war between them and America”, he added.

“The Houthis have genuine interest to keep this war ongoing because they are benefiting from it, as it’s a revenue generating system for them,” he said, but for Yemen the war “must stop today and not tomorrow”.

The battle for Marib

Marib, a gas-rich region, has become the focal point of the war in recent months, particularly as the main city hosts more than two million people who fled fighting in other parts of the country – almost 70 per cent of the total number of displaced people in Yemen.

“There is a huge need for international actors to do more, people are being evicted from their cities and villages to the centre of Marib,” Mr Mubarak said.

“The Houthis have their military illusions, they think by capturing Marib they can have the upper hand in the political process after, but that’s not the case.”

Although Marib is considered a safe haven for displaced Yemeni civilians, “the Houthis have not stopped bombing cities and civilians with ballistic missiles”, Mr Mubarak said.

He said the attacks showed the level of weapon supplies from Iran.

“The escalation is at its highest level, but the Houthis are losing. They have lost over 50,000 fighters between January and June," he said. "And if you see the pictures, the majority of them are between the ages of 12-20. It's a pity."

The Yemeni minister said government troops and local tribes had managed to push back the rebels.

“We don’t have any doubts and are confident our troops can defend Marib.”

Updated: November 21, 2021, 4:18 PM