Yemen in Focus: Nationwide violence shakes period of peace

Yemen in Focus: Nationwide violence shakes period of peace
This week we focus on a deadly attack on government forces, a newly-launched anti-Houthi offensive, and violence against children.
6 min read
22 January, 2020
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced [Getty]
Chief of all stories in Yemen this week was a devastating and deadly attack on a government military camp in Yemen that killed more than 100 people, which the government blamed on the Houthi rebels.

Saturday's strike, which hit a mosque inside a military camp in Marib, follows months of relative calm in the war between the Iran-backed Houthis and Yemen's internationally-recognised government, which is supported by a Saudi-led military coalition. 

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, though military sources, as well as Yemen's Saudi-based President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi directly blamed the Houthis.

Read more: Kidnapped Yemeni girl found 'with severed tongue' amid fears over rising abductions

"The disgraceful actions of the Houthi militia without a doubt confirm its unwillingness to (achieve) peace, because it knows nothing but death and destruction and is a cheap Iranian tool in the region," Saba news agency quoted Hadi as saying. 

Meanwhile, Yemen's foreign ministry said in a statement on Twitter: "We strongly condemn the terrorist attack on a mosque by the Houthi militias... which left more than 100 dead and dozens injured."

An army spokesman said that the dead included soldiers and civilians, and that the Houthis would face a "ruthless" retaliation to the strike.

Death tolls in Yemen's grinding conflict are often disputed, but the huge casualty list in Marib represents one of the bloodiest single attacks since the war erupted in 2014 when the rebels seized the capital Sanaa. 

Saudi-owned Al-Hadath television broadcast a video that it showed the gruesome aftermath of the attack.

Body parts can be seen on the floor among shredded debris. Blood is pooled on the carpet and spattered against the walls. 

The United Nations warned that Saturday's missile attack could derail a fragile political process that aims to calm the almost five-year-old war.

"The hard-earned progress that Yemen has made on de-escalation is very fragile. Such actions can derail this progress," the United Nations envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths said, urging Yemen's conflicting factions to redirect efforts from the battlefield to political dialogue.

EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement late on Sunday that "all parties should show restraint and engage constructively with the UN Special Envoy to end the conflict".

"The EU will continue supporting the UN in achieving this with all the tools at its disposal," he added.

The drone and missile strike came a day after coalition-backed government forces launched a large-scale operation against the Houthis in the Nihm region, north of Sanaa. 

Fighting in Nihm was ongoing on Sunday, a military source said according to the official Saba news agency.

"Dozens from the (Houthi) militia were killed and injured," the source added. 

The attack came amid a wide scale Saudi-backed government offensive against the Houthi rebels that was launched in Nihm last week.

On Monday, the government said it had successfully captured control of a strategic mountain, forcing rebels to flee the area.

The following day, senior Houthi commander, Jaber Al Muwaed was killed in battle in the Nihm area, the closest city to the rebel-controlled capital.

"Our hearts and minds are with the brave heroes on the Nihm front, who are now writing a page that must remain immortal in the Yemeni battle to restore their state and republic," Saleh wrote on Twitter.

Brigadier General Tariq Saleh, son of former late president Ali Abdullah Saleh, called on all Yemenis to unite in support of the anti-Houthi government offensive.

"We are ready to support the national battle with all we can and have," he added.

'Friendly' assassination

Separately, a senior Southern Resistance commander from Dhale was assassinated in a dispute with a man that had previously fought with him against the Houthi rebels.

Commander of the 1st Brigade in the Southern Resistance forces in the Dhale governorate, Walid Saif Al-Afif, more commonly known as Sukara, was shot in the head after confronting Shalal Saeed in their home city.

Details surrounding the dispute remain vague, however sources believe Saeed had taken a government-owned armoured vehicle and was told to return it before shooting the commander.

The perpetrator of the attack fled the scene of the crime but was later found and killed in retaliation for the assassination, sources told The New Arab.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni girl who was kidnapped from the capital Sanaa last week was found with clear signs of torture on her body, including a severed tongue.

Nine-year-old Lujain Mohammed was reported missing just three days earlier, triggering a search frenzy in the Houthi-controlled Sanaa city.

Local reports said the girl was found outside a zoo on Friday with burn marks on her body and her tongue was cut off. She showed clear signs of psychological distress, Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni reported, noting the perpetrator of the devastating attack has yet to be identified or located.

Kidnappings have in recent years become more common in Yemen, where a five-year conflict has caused immeasurable damage to the country and society.

Two young boys were also reported missing in Yemen's third largest city last week.

Mustafa Abdul Wasi, 13, and Awab Tarish, 14, went missing on Thursday evening in Taiz's Dhabhan area.

Meanwhile, more than 300 women have been reportedly abducted by Houthi rebels, according to figures reported by Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni.

Read more: Yemen in Focus: Cable damage wipes out 80% of country's internet connectivity

Yemen's conflict began in 2014 when the Houthi rebels overran the capital and other major cities in the north of the country, forcing the internationally-recognised government of Hadi to flee to the southern port city of Aden, where it established a temporary capital.

The war escalated months later in March 2015 after a Saudi-led coalition intervened in the country, imposing a brutal bombing campaign.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced in what the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Last month, the International Rescue Committee warned that Yemen's devastating war could see the country plunge into a darker abyss, noting another five years of the conflict could cost £22 billion.

Yemenis living in the country, which has suffered from nearly five years of war, are expected to require humanitarian assistance in 2020, analysis by the group said.

"2019 was a devastating year for civilians caught in crisis worldwide," said IRC president and CEO David Miliband.

"Across the globe, the scale of need in 2020 is likely to stretch resources beyond their limit. It's vital that we do not abandon these countries when they need us most, and that governments around the world step up funding to these anticipated crises before more lives are lost – and the bill for humanitarian catastrophe rises."

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino