Yemen getting involved in Israel-Gaza conflict is US envoy's 'worst fear'

Houthi rebels last week launched drones and missiles believed to have been aimed at Israel

A Houthi soldier looks on as Yemenis take part in a rally in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Sanaa. EPA
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The US Special Envoy to Yemen said on Tuesday that he is afraid the crisis in Gaza is threatening progress towards peace between the Houthis and the government, saying the prospect of the country being drawn into the conflict between Israel and Hamas is his “worst fear”.

Speaking at the US Institute of Peace during a discussion on the offloading of the FSO Safer, Tim Lenderking referenced the Houthi rebels' launching of several drones and missiles towards Israel last Friday, calling it “unfortunate”.

“My worst fear, of course, is that Yemen gets dragged into another war, and [Yemen's] war is not over yet,” he said.

A US warship operating in the Red Sea intercepted the drones and missiles believed to have been launched by the Iran-backed group towards targets in Israel.

It was another escalation that has threatened to broaden the conflict beyond the borders of Israel and Gaza, as the Israeli military prepares for a ground invasion of the enclave.

On October 7, Hamas militants killed more than 1,400 people in Israel. The Israeli military has killed more than 5,000 Palestinians in its counter-offensive in Gaza.

As the conflict continues, the administration of US President Joe Biden has continued to financially support its long-time ally Israel.

Mr Lenderking said that “we all feel the impact of the loss of life that is taking place” and that the killing of civilians “is inexcusable from either side to perpetuate”.

There had been relative optimism on prospects for peace in Yemen in the months running up to the escalation of violence between Hamas and Israel.

A UN-brokered ceasefire in April 2022 resulted in a reduction in fighting, which has more or less continued despite the ceasefire expiring in October last year.

Saudi Arabia recently hosted Houthi representatives for several days of talks, in the first official visit by a Houthi delegation to the kingdom since 2014.

“I am afraid of what will happen if the Gaza conflict grinds on and we see more inflammation in the region and pressure on actors across the spectrum to get involved,” Mr Lenderking said.

But the seasoned US diplomat expressed hope about the Yemen peace process despite intensified regional tension, and emphasised that Washington continues to prioritise that process.

“We've got to keep the Yemen diplomacy going … I think Yemenis may sense that there's a moment when this could be end of the conflict,” he said.

“There's a huge amount of work that needs to be done, but we want to make sure that the effort can go forward.”

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Updated: October 24, 2023, 6:19 PM