Saturday, November 05, 2016

Saudi Arabia Rejects Responsibility for Yemen's Woes
By Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent
3 November 2016

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels who seized power in Yemen two years ago are refusing to vacate the cities as part of a proposed peace deal, according to senior Saudi officials.

The Houthis have fired more than 30 ballistic missiles across the border into residential areas of Saudi Arabia and have imprisoned and tortured their own citizens.

These, and other allegations of Houthi misdeeds, are part of a determined public relations effort by the Saudis this week to confront the growing condemnation of their role in Yemen's civil war.

Air strikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition, in support of the UN-recognised Yemeni government, have been blamed for the majority of the estimated 10,000 deaths so far.

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Media captionSaudi Arabia's Maj Gen Ahmed Al-Assiri: "We have to find a political solution"
One particularly devastating air strike on 8 October hit a packed funeral hall in the capital Sanaa, killing 140 people and injuring hundreds more.

An investigation by the Saudi-led coalition concluded the attack had been carried out in error, that normal safety procedures had broken down and that individuals involved had since been removed from their posts.

But it follows a number of reported strikes on hospitals, industrial plants, a prison and other non-military sites that have led to calls by human rights organisations for an immediate arms boycott on Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis insist that they never deliberately target civilians, that rigorous checks and balances are imposed by their Coalition Air Operations Centre (Caoc) at King Salman Airbase in Riyadh, and that they abide by the international rules laid down in the Law of Armed Conflict (Loac).

To put their side of the story forward, the Saudis have sent their top coalition Spokesman, Maj Gen Ahmed Al-Assiri to London, accompanied by a senior Yemeni foreign ministry official and a representative from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief effort.

The Saudis see themselves as being surrounded on almost all sides by Iran and its proxies - in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, the Gulf and now Yemen.

When they put together their coalition in March 2015 and began the air campaign, there was an expectation that their air superiority and 21st-century US and UK-supplied weapons would soon force the Houthis to sue for peace at the negotiating table.

But the Houthis have remained stubbornly in control of the capital and most of the more populous, western half of Yemen. Peace talks have dragged on for months, in Oman and then Kuwait, with no result.

Meanwhile the airstrikes continue, against a growing clamour in both northern Yemen and in the UK.
The UN estimates that 80% of Yemen's population is now in need of humanitarian aid. There are warnings the country could be on the verge of famine.

The war is a stalemate and unless both sides can accept the latest peace proposals there is little sign of it ending soon.

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