Yemen's 'rebel parliament' convenes as hopes for peace fade

Yemen's 'rebel parliament' convenes as hopes for peace fade
Saudi-led bombing rocked Yemen's capital Sanaa, while a rebel parliament convened and approved of a controversial new council, damaging hopes of a peaceful solution to the war.
3 min read
13 August, 2016
Yemen has been devastated by months of heavy bombing and fighting [AFP]

Yemen's rebels convened parliament on Saturday in the face of national and international criticism.

It was the first session of parliament in two years, and a move that is viewed as a grave insult to the country's internationally-recognised government.

MPs met in the rebel-held capital Sanaa, and comes after Houthi tribes and their allies rejected a UN peace plan.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes pounded military targets around the capital as the MPs debated, parliamentary sources told AFP.

Rebel council

Last week, the Houthis announced the formation of a council - or rebel government - to run its Yemeni domains including Sanaa.

The move was seen as killing off hopes for peace after already shaky talks with government officials in Kuwait fell apart

Saturday's parliament saw 91 lawmakers - of the 301-member national assembly - approve the formation of the council.

The response from the internationally-recognised government was that the parliamentary session was a "violation" of the constitution.

Yemen's constitution makes it clear that more than 150 lawmakers must be present for voting to take place, which is a number way above the rebel meet.

Some lawmakers were even reportedly forced to attend the session after receiving "threats" from the rebels, sources told AFP, to maximise the numbers.

Yemen President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi described the meeting as a "crime punishable by law".

"Whatever takes place at this meeting has no legal effects and cannot be implemented," he said.

End of talks

Last week, UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed suspended peace talks between rebels and the government, and blamed rebels for the formation of a political council.

The formation of the council led to a resumption in Saudi-led bombing of the capital, leading to more civilian deaths.

Government forces and their Gulf allies might now be looking for a military solution to the crisis, or ramp up pressure on the Houthis to force them to negotiate.

This could be difficult. Despite the government side having an overwhelming technological advantage over the rebels due to Riyadh's support the two sides are still locked in stalemate.

One sign of the difficulties Saudi Arabia faces in the war against the rebels was seen this week with an order for new tanks.

Among the 153 US-made Abrams tanks Saudi Arabia requested are 20 "battle damage replacements".

Defence One noted, which could only have come from fighting in Yemen.

Riyadh might have lost as many as 400-plus tanks since it intervened on the government's side in March 2015, the site noted.

Many of them could have been taken out by Iranian supplied anti-tank missiles, and could be one factor in why early government offensives to ground to a halt.

While government forces embroiled in fighting with al-Qaeda and Islamic State group militants in the south the road to retake Sanaa will prove even more difficult. 

Civilians are still paying the heaviest price in the conflict with deaths "steadily mounting", according to the UN.

More than 200 people have been killed in the past four months of fighting, with at least 500 wounded, and with bombing resuming and no end in fighting, the number looks set to rise.