Who is besieging who?
23 December 2009
Will GCC and the US "rescue" Yemen from collapse, asks Nasser Arrabyee
The leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are assuring Yemen they will provide it with all kinds of support to confront Al-Houthi rebels to preserve the unity, security and stability of Yemen. They also said the security of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, both of them at war with Iranian-backed Al Houthi Shia rebels, is vital to the security of the GCC countries, according to the statement released at the 30th GCC summit concluded in Kuwait late Tuesday.
This expected support to Yemen and Saudi Arabia comes as the armies of Yemen and Saudi Arabia intensify their assault on rebels or "infiltrators as the Saudis call them. They claim the rebels are financed by Iran. Both armies say the defeat of the rebels will end the war. Yemen has been at war with the rebels for more than four months and Saudi Arabia for more than one month.
As the army tightens the noose in Saada, which is blockaded from all directions, Al-Houthi insists it is not the Yemeni army that it is fighting but the combined forces of the Saudi and American armies.
The Saudis say they are now focussing only on clearing their borders from infiltrators and are not making any incursions inside Yemeni territory. However, Al-Houthi rebels allege that on one day alone, 13 December, Saudi fighter jets struck the area of Bani Mueen in Razeh, west of Saada, more than 50 times, killing 70 and injuring more than 100.
The spokesman of the Yemeni army Askar Zuail denied this, saying that it was Yemen warplanes, not the Saudis, that hit Bani Mueen, the stronghold of the rebels.
"American warplanes carried out more than 28 air raids on Razeh, Shada, Dhyah, and Ghamer, from Sunday evening until dawn on Monday. These were very advanced warplanes, dropping huge bombs, and the Americans were monitoring our cars via satellite," said an e-mail sent by Al-Houthi rebels on Monday.
The Yemeni government denied any direct American participation in the war, although it said the American government supports the war against the Al-Houthi armed rebellion.
Commander of US Central Command General David Petraeus said in more than one press statement his country is providing security support to Yemen within the framework of military cooperation provided by Washington to its allies in the region. He emphasised that American ships based in Yemeni waters are there not only for monitoring but to stop the flow of arms to Al-Houthi rebels.
Observers view the conflicting statements of Al-Houthi about the war as an indication that the rebels are on their last legs. Last week, the Yemeni army stormed Saada where about 300 rebels have been using residents as human shields for more than two months.
Dozens from both sides, mainly from the rebel side, were killed and injured in this operation. More than 200 rebels surrendered and about 130 families were moved to safety under the supervision of the local authority in Saada.
About 40 rebels are still barricaded in mosques and a few houses in the northwestern corner of the old city according to a statement by the governor of Saada, Hassan Manaa, on Tuesday.
The rebels outside Saada failed over the last two days to reduce the pressure on their comrades surrounded in the mosques of the old city despite their repeated suicide attacks on the troops positioned in towns around Saada such as Muhdha, Makash and Al-Samaa.
The deaths and surrender of rebels and the fact that others fled Saada to the neighbouring province of Al-Jawf in the east lead observers to believe that the war is about to end.
The surrender took place in Harf Sufyan, the most important frontline town in the south of Saada province. Ten rebels who earlier surrendered through the local tribal sheikh, Hamed Mused Kazma, were all from the tribe of Al-Shahwani. They were shown by state-run TV expressing their repentance and expressing their readiness to fight against the rebels.
The local authority in Saada and the army keep calling on Al-Houthi rebels to surrender and return to their houses and families, promising that the government will protect them from any danger.
The rebels who escaped to Al-Jawf were surrounded in a cave by the army and local tribesmen, forcing them to choose between a desperate attempt to escape or to surrender.
To show the tribesmen of Al-Jawf that any cooperation with the fleeing rebels is a red line, the government sent fighter jets to strike Al-Zaher where the rebels were holed up.
The air strikes destroyed the three-storey house of the tribal Sheikh Hassan Abdullah Hamtan, in which the fugitive rebels had held meetings. The house was in the village of Al-Saamoom, about 60km east of Harf Sufyan. Many people and tribal sheikhs in this area are cooperating with the rebels, not necessarily for sectarian reasons, but to anger the government, which they accuse of ignoring them. Sheikh Hassan Abdullah Hamtan has three sons fighting with Al-Houthi rebels.
The leader of the 50 rebels who escaped to Al-Jawf earlier this month, Mohieddin Al-Ansi, was arrested by tribesmen loyal to the government. Rebel leader Abdel-Malik Al-Houthi vowed to send fighters to open a new front against the Saudi forces in Najran in the north.
The war against Al-Houthi rebels is only one of three big challenges facing Yemen now and making it close to a failed state. The second challenge is the separatist movement in the south. Yemen and US officials claim that Al-Qaeda is exploiting both south and north problems to recruit and to undermine the Yemen government.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, on Tuesday, renewed his call for national dialogue to start on 26 December, which would include all the political, tribal, religious and social forces, to rescue his country from possible collapse. The dialogue will include all 111 members of the parliament, Saleh's appointed advisory council, the top two officials of every political party, 22 religious scholars, the leaders of civil society organisations, 22 tribal chiefs, and secretary-generals of the local councils from all over the country.