Yemeni government not seeking military battle for Sanaa, minister says

Information minister criticises UN envoy Martin Griffiths but says government has not lost confidence in him

FILE PHOTO: A view of the old quarter of Sanaa, Yemen November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi/File Photo
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Yemen’s internationally recognised government wants to avoid a military battle for Sanaa, the country’s capital that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized in 2015, Information Minister Moammar Al Eryani said on Tuesday.

The minister, on a visit to Washington this week, said that his government “wants to spare Yemenis’ blood”.

“The government troops are 20 kilometres from Sanaa and have been there for a year," Mr Al Eryani said.

"We are capable of achieving victory but we don’t want to conquer it militarily for the sake of the Yemenis. We want a political solution and we are serious about the peace process.”

His comments came after the death toll in the country’s civil war reached 91,600, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project said.

Mr Al Eryani expressed deep reservations about the UN-led peace process and the track record of the world body’s special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths.

“Mr Griffiths misled the international community, he wanted to achieve a fake victory [in Stockholm] to claim personal credit,” he said.

The Stockholm agreement reached in December between the government and the rebels involved a prisoner swap, and freeing up the airport in Sanaa and Hodeidah port.

“Nothing has happened,” Mr Al Eryani said. “Because of the ceasefire in Hodeidah, the Houthis redeployed elsewhere and now are able to carry attacks, fire drones and missiles at neighbouring countries.

"This is the result of Stockholm."

But he said his government still had confidence in Mr Griffiths and was seeking full implementation of the Stockholm agreement.

Mr Al Eryani said Iran was responsible for Houthis' sophisticated weapons. The rebels fired a surface-to-air missile at a US drone last week and attacked a Saudi civilian airport.

“The more pressure on Iran, more sophisticated weapons will get to the Houthis," he said. "Iran is directing the Houthis. They have full control."

US Central Command said on Sunday that “a US MQ-9 was shot down over Yemen by what we assess to be a Houthi SA-6 surface to air missile on June 6".

“The altitude of the engagement indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability, which we assess was enabled by Iranian assistance,” it said.

In the long term, Mr Al Eryani said the sanctions on Iran would have a positive effect.

He said that the Houthis lacked political experience and were controlled by Hezbollah and Iran.

Iran’s goal in Yemen “is to control the Bab Al Mandeb in addition to Hormuz,” Mr Al Eryani said, referring to two waterways crucial to the transport of oil.

He also hinted at covert co-operation between the Houthis and Al Qaeda and ISIS.

“ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have not carried out any attacks in Houthi areas, while the arms smuggling to Houthis comes through Aqap territory,” Mr Al Eryani said.

He will be meeting US officials and Congress members this week to make the case for continued support to his government and to push for a political solution.

“The happy Yemen is no more and it is facing fragmentation,” Mr Al Eryani said.