AN airstrike in Saada, the heartland of Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement, on Friday has resulted in a horrific death toll, highlighting once again the futility of this destructive war. The strike is believed to have been carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, which had also struck a telecommunications facility in Hodeidah earlier in the day, killing at least three children and knocking out Yemen’s internet connectivity.
The Saudi coalition has denied the Saada attack on a detention centre, in which over 70 people perished, with many more injured in critical condition. However, it is unclear who else has the firepower to carry out such a devastating attack. The Saudis have accepted carrying out the Hodeidah operation though.
The bombings come in the aftermath of Houthi attacks targeting Abu Dhabi earlier in the week, in which three people, including a Pakistani, were killed.
While both Saudi Arabia and its coalition partner the UAE have a right to defend themselves against external aggression, the killings of such a large number of non-combatants is indefensible. There has been widespread condemnation of the Saada massacre, led by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who reminded “all parties of their obligations … to ensure that civilians are protected”. Even the US, which arms the Saudi coalition, called for “de-escalation”.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the coalition has targeted non-combatants in large numbers; previous attacks on markets, weddings and schools have resulted in mass casualties as well. The sad fact is that Yemen’s people have been crushed by foreign aggression, starved and left to fend for themselves in the face of disease due to this futile war. According to the UN, over 377,000 people have died due to the conflict — 70pc of them children. Considering these grim facts, to halt the suffering of the Yemeni people and ensure the security of all regional states, the sooner this war is ended, the better.
Explainer: What is the Yemen war?
The history of recent conflicts has shown us that guerrilla groups using asymmetrical tactics have managed to take on much more powerful and well-armed adversaries. In Yemen, the Houthis have done just that against the Arab coalition backed by hi-tech Western weaponry. Therefore, what is required is a negotiated end to the war. An immediate ceasefire must be declared and the Yemeni government, the Houthis and southern elements, as well as other legitimate stakeholders, should chalk out a power-sharing agreement. The foreign supporters of these Yemeni factions — Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran — need to facilitate such efforts.
Thereafter, a democratic roadmap can be agreed upon that protects the basic rights of all Yemenis, keeping in mind the country’s confessional and tribal intricacies and protecting Yemen’s territorial integrity. More Houthi attacks on Saudi and Emirati targets, and savage responses which decimate a large number of civilians, are unacceptable and will only fuel a cycle of violence in Yemen and the wider region.
Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2022