Yemen Begins 72-Hour Ceasefire Amid Controversy
By Samantha Stevenson
A U.N. brokered ceasefire took effect in Yemen late October 19 after a call from the U.S. and Britain to end violence between the government and Iran-backed Houthis, a rebel group in Yemen.
The war is being fought between the Houthis and the internationally recognized Yemen government, supported by Saudi Arabia, the United States, The United Kingdom, and other Gulf allies.
The ceasefire brought Sanaa, the capital of Yemen that has been under Houthi control since September 2015, its first night free of airstrikes in almost three months.
However, Reuters reports on a Saudi-led military coalition statement claiming the Houthi group fired rockets at the cities of Jazan and Najran in Saudi Arabia. The statement claims that “43 violations were committed along the border … in which snipers and various weapons were used, including missiles.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and made a plea for the Houthis to respect the ceasefire.
The call came a few days after a Saudi-led coalition attacked a funeral in Sanaa on October 8. RT reports that the attack was carried out on false information that armed Houthi rebels were allegedly in the area.
According to The Washington Post, anywhere from 135 to 155 civilians and senior officials were killed in the bombings, with hundreds more wounded and hospitalized.
The coalition initially denied their warplanes carried out the attacks, but the next day called the attack “regrettable and painful” and launched an investigation. This reversal came hours after the Obama administration expressed concern over the attacks, declaring that U.S. support to Saudi Arabia “is not a blank check.”
The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration has been criticized several times from human rights groups and lawmakers for the continuous backing of airstrikes carried out by Saudi Arabia, which have continuously targeted hospitals and other civilian areas.
The funeral bombing furthered tension that had been going on between Washington and the Houthis. An American warship fired cruise missiles on October 13 at radar installations that the Pentagon said had been used by Yemeni insurgents to target an American warship. President Obama approved the strikes.
According to The New York Times, this strike against the Houthis is the first time the Unites States has been involved in the war between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, who is backed by Saudi Arabia.
Before the attacks on Thursday, the United States was trying to push for a peace deal in the public eye while privately funding the Saudi bombing campaign against rebels since last year. The New York Times says the main goal of the Obama administration is to prevent being dragged into the ever-worsening conflict as much as possible.
The conflict came to a head in March 2015 when the Houthis, which are comprised largely of Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, forced acting president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi out of the country. Citizens loyal to former President Saleh, who was forced to hand over the presidency in 2011 to Hadi, assisted the Houthis.
According to BBC, the war in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, has taken 6,800 lives and injured over 35,000 since March 2015. The majority of the injuries and deaths have been caused by airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led multinational coalition, such as the attack on the funeral.
In all of this, Yemen citizens have borne the brunt of the fighting. BBC reports activists have called the treatment of the Yemeni people a serious violation of international law by all parties.