Fistfight erupts at Yemen peace talks

Fistfight erupts at Yemen peace talks
3 min read
19 June, 2015
A fistfight erupted on the sidelines of talks in Geneva on Thursday between supporters of different warring factions in Yemen, underlining the deep divisions in the country.
A man throws a shoe at members of a rebel delegation, Geneva June 18 [Getty].

Opponents of Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen who drove the government into exile interrupted a news conference by the rebels on Thursday, throwing shoes and insulting them as "criminals" and "dogs" who were "killing the children of south Yemen". 

A Saudi-led coalition has been launching air raids against the Houthis since late March in a campaign to restore the exiled government and back its armed supporters. 

The Houthis overran the capital Sanaa in September and have since expanded their control across several regions, aided by troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.   

They pushed UN-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi into exile after advancing in March onto his refuge in the southern port city of Aden, triggering ongoing battles with southern fighters.  

The fighting continued on Thursday, with around 30 killed in clashes between Houthis and tribesmen in the central province of Mareb, tribal sources said, while Sanaa was hit by air strikes targeting Houthi military sites.

The peace talks are struggling to bring together the rival factions and, with discussions due to conclude on Friday or Saturday, delegates have reported little progress toward the ceasefire the UN has requested. 

Hamza Al-Houthi, head of the Houthi delegation to the UN-sponsored talks, stayed composed throughout the brawl that began when a woman in a pink headscarf went to the podium and threw a shoe at him, a particular insult in the Arab world. 

A fistfight then broke out between Houthis and protesters before the latter were escorted out. 

A representative of Yemen's General People's Congress, which is allied to the Houthis, said they supported a pause to let humanitarian aid into Yemen but doubted others would do the same. 

"We are absolutely in favour of a humanitarian truce. I don't think this pause receives the approval of Saudi Arabia, after all they are attacking us, it is up to them," Yasser Al Ewady told reporters in Geneva.  

But Khaled Bahah, Yemen's Vice President in exile, suggested the Houthis would use a ceasefire to expand their reach. 

"We are hoping for a permanent humanitarian ceasefire, not a temporary truce. Because a temporary truce is exploited to spread the battlefield and as a tactical measure by some parties," he told reporters at the Arab league in Cairo.

Wave of car bombs 

Earlier, at least 31 people were killed and dozens wounded in five simultaneous bombings claimed by the Islamic State group at Shia mosques and offices in the Sanaa, medics and witnesses said. 

The blasts on Wednesday rocked the capital as Saudi-led forces conducted more air strikes against Houthi military bases across Yemen.

The extremist group Islamic State (IS) said in a statement posted online it carried out the attacks.

IS, a deviant radical group, said the attacks were in "revenge" against the Houthis, who have overrun Sanaa and much of  the country and whom it considers to be heretics.

The attacks came almost three months after IS carried out multiple bombings against Shia mosques, killing 142 people.   

Two car bombs targeted mosques, while a third hit the house of the head of the rebels' politburo, Saleh al-Sammad, witnesses and security officials said.  

The IS statement said the nearby politburo office was the target.  

One of the car bombs targeted the house of Houthi leader Taha al-Mutawakel and the adjacent Al-Hashush mosque, which was targeted in the March bombings.   

The other car bomb hit the Al-Quba Al-Khadra mosque in the central Hayel district, which is frequented by Houthi supporters. 

Bombs also went off at two other mosques, Al-Kibssi and Al-Tayssir in Al-Ziraa district, with all the attacks timed to coincide with Muslim sunset prayers. 

Witnesses said the bombs were planted near the entrances to the mosques, and exploded as worshippers flocked in for the prayers, on the eve of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.