News Analysis: Military operations await Yemen's Hodeidah following agreement deadlock

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-05 22:13:16|Editor: xuxin
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by Murad Abdo

ADEN, Yemen, March 5 (Xinhua) -- Failure in implementing the Stockholm agreement on Yemen's key port city of Hodeidah will open the door broader for a resumption of military operations between the two warring rivals.

It was highly hoped that Stockholm's agreement can pave the way for permanent peace in the impoverished Arab country as the first step to end the four-year military conflict.

However, all the provisions of Stockholm's agreement were not implemented on-ground and both Yemeni warring parties failed to withdraw their forces from the city's ports and surrounding outskirts but continued to prepare for new military escalation.

On Sunday, the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited the government-controlled southern port city of Aden to push the two Yemeni rival parties toward implementation of the peace deal, saying that it was "the last chance."

Hunt warned the two warring sides that peace process in Yemen could die in weeks if the Stockholm deal was not fully implemented in Hodeidah.

In response to the remarks made a day earlier by Hunt during his first visit to Yemen, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels accused British government of seeking to derail a fragile peace deal and paving way for the Saudi-led coalition to occupy Hodeidah.

Abdul-Raqeed Hidyani, a political observer and writer, said that Hunt, through his important visit to Aden where Yemen's government is temporarily based, dispatched a clear message that angered the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Sanaa.

"Visiting Aden by Hunt means that the international community is disappointed at the Houthi rebels and there will be no tolerance anymore," Hidyani said.

"The Houthis who lost all the previous chances for achieving peace are now angry because Britain started pushing the international community to besiege them politically," he said.

Hidyani added that "the United Kingdom will apparently allow the Saudi-led coalition and their local allies to complete the military operations in Hodeidah. The Houthi rebels got this bitter message that deeply upset them."

Most of the Yemeni experts and analysts believed that the war-torn city of Hodeidah awaits a new round of violence and bloody fighting following the failure in implementing Stockholm's agreement.

Yaseen Al-Tamimi, a Yemeni political writer and analyst, told Xinhua that the deal declared between the two warring rivals in Sweden under the auspices of the United Nations passes now through an extremely critical period.

"Britain attempted and really supported the UN mediator to achieve success through Stockholm's agreement but the Houthis undermined the peace efforts as usual and refuse to leave key ports in Hodeidah," Tamimi said.

Tamimi clarified that "the crux of the problem lay in the unwillingness of Houthis to make concessions as stipulated in the Stockholm's agreement, namely withdrawal from Hodeidah."

He added that "Houthis withdrawal from Hodeidah is something that cannot happen or be done today or even in the near future."

Some Yemeni observers did not pin much hope on Stockholm's agreement to achieve significant progress and end the country's conflict peacefully through negotiations.

Nabil Albukiri, a Yemeni researcher in international affairs, told Xinhua that Stockholm's agreement on Hodeidah was dead before it was even born.

"From the beginning, Stockholm's deal didn't intend to resolve the ongoing conflict or end the country's crisis but it mainly aimed at managing the crisis only," Albukiri said.

It is expected that ferocious fighting will overwhelm the strategic Red Sea port city of Hodeidah following the Houthis' intransigent attitude and failure of Stockholm's agreement, according to Albukiri.

A few days ago, the Houthi rebels had announced their readiness to withdraw unilaterally from the ports of the Red Sea city of Hodeidah if requested by the United Nations, but refused later and laid new conditions for the withdrawal.

Albukiri revealed to Xinhua that "there was an unannounced Iranian-British agreement on the withdrawal of Houthis from Hodeidah and handing over the city to the British under the UN banner."

"But it seems that the Iranians backed away from that secret agreement and pressed the Houthis not to withdraw from Hodeidah at the last moment," Albukiri concluded.

Sporadic fighting and exchange of artillery shelling beware the two warring sides take place daily in Hodeidah, but Yemeni politicians believe that an all-out military offensive is looming on the horizon.

Hussein Laqwar, a southern politician and observer, told Xinhua that at this stage the situation in Hodeidah is closer to wide-scale military confrontation than any time before.

"As it was expected since the beginning, the Houthi rebels were not really ready to implement Stockholm's agreement and will not be in the future because they are against peace," Laqwar said.

The UN Security Council dispatched the foreign minister representing one of its permanent members "for the purpose of sending a clear message to the Houthi leaders in Sanaa that the time is running fast."

The Stockholm deal was reached in December 2018, focusing on Hodeidah as a starting point of the ongoing peace process sponsored by the UN and backed by Britain and the United States.

The deal was considered a major breakthrough in the four-year conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 3 million others and pushed more than 20 million people to the brink of major famine.

The cease-fire went into force on Dec. 18 last year and has been largely held in Hodeidah, the country's key port which is the main gateway for the much-needed food imports and humanitarian aid.

Saudi Arabia with other Arab countries intervened militarily and began pounding the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa in March 2015 in response to an official public request from Yemen's President Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to protect Yemen and roll back Iran's influence.

The ongoing fighting between the two warring rivals with daily Saudi-led airstrikes plunged the most impoverished Arab country in the Middle East into more chaos and violence, aggravating the suffering of Yemenis and deepening the world's worst humanitarian crisis in the country.