June 2019 – The Republic of Yemen is a country at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula in western Asia and covers 203,850 square miles. The territory also includes more than 200 islands. It is a member of the Arab League, United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. A BRUTAL civil war raging in Yemen has claimed more than 16,000 lives and left 13 million people on the brink of starvation. The conflict has been dubbed a “proxy war” among competing powers in the Middle East as a Saudi-led coalition battles rebels backed by Iran. Here’s the latest.
Why is Saudi Arabia at war with Yemen?
In January 2015, Houthi rebels – Shiite Muslims backed by Iran – seized control of the much of the country including the capital Sana’a. Hadi was put under house arrest but managed to escape to safety in Saudi Arabia before returning to recaptured Aden. His government is still internationally recognised.
A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority nations are supporting government forces in the bloody civil war. Tribal groups seeking autonomy have also become embroiled in the conflict.
And US forces are reported to be in Yemen targeting Al-Qaeda fighters. Saudi Arabia has been fiercely criticised for launching air strikes which have killed or maimed thousands of civilians. In August 2018 around 40 schoolboys aged six to 11 were killed when a laser-guided bomb hit their bus in the Houthi-controlled north.
HOW DID THE WAR START?
The fighting can be traced back to the handover of power from long-time autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh to his deputy and current president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in November 2011. The handover was forced in a bid to return stability to the country following the Arab Spring, a series of uprisings against long-time rulers across the Middle East. Hadi has struggled to deal with various problems afflicting the nation including al-Qaeda attacks, a separatist rising in the south, divided loyalties in the military, corruption, lack of food and unemployment.
Hadi’s struggles prompted the rising of the Houthi movement, championing Yemen’s minority Shia community. They had launched a series of rebellions against the former president over the last ten years but took advantage of Hadi’s weakness by claiming control of the northern Saada province. Frustrated by the lack of reform following the removal of Saleh, many ordinary Yemenis joined the Houthis. The rebels eventually managed to take control of the capital Sanaa in January 2015 and effectively put President Hadi under house arrest until he managed to escape to Aden in the south of the country.
How does the US come into play?
US President Donald Trump has made efforts to back Saudi Arabia despite the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. In a statement named “America First!”, Trump said that Saudi Arabia is a “steadfast partner” that has agreed to invest “a record amount of money” in the US. Trump also mentioned that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “could very well” have known about Khashoggi’s murder, reported BBC. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t! “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.” Saudi Arabia is fully backed by the US, making it an even more powerful fight from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Is there a famine in Yemen?
Yemen, the Gulf’s poorest nation, has been torn apart by the conflict. Supplies of basic goods and humanitarian aid have been halted by forces battling control of the strategic port in Hodeidah.
Violence has forced farmers to abandon their crops, and hospitals have been overwhelmed by sick, wounded and malnourished children. Millions of civilians have been forced to go with little or no food because of the war.
And the situation is likely to get worse if the Saudi-led coalition does not cease air strikes. The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, warned half the country – 13 million people – could be engulfed by famine in the the next three months. She told the BBC in October: “Many of us felt as we went into the 21st century that it was unthinkable that we could see a famine like we saw in Ethiopia, that we saw in Bengal, that we saw in parts of the Soviet Union – that was just unacceptable. “Many of us had the confidence that would never happen again and yet the reality is that in Yemen that is precisely what we are looking at.”
How many people have been killed in Yemen?
In January 2017, a leading UN official said the civilian death toll in the conflict had exceeded 10,000 – with another 40,000 wounded. Jamie McGoldrick, from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the figure was calculated on lists of victims gathered by various health facilities operating in Yemen. It was almost certainly an underestimate, experts warned at the time. Some analysts have said as many as 50,000 people have been killed directly by the violence, plus another 50,000 from disease and famine. The impoverished nation has been hit by repeated outbreaks of cholera because of the war. As well as the sizeable death toll, the UNHCR believes over three million people have been displaced as a result of the conflict.
This was in 2018