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Escalation of conflict in Yemen spells disaster for the region

(Alamy)

3 min read

Yemen is global news again thanks to the Houthis’ drone attacks against shipping in the Red Sea. The war in Gaza has given the Houthis an opportunity to raise their international profile as very few people had heard of them except those of us engaged in Yemen over many years.

The attacks are considered popular by many in the Middle East and North Africa region, seen as standing strong on behalf of Palestinians. It reveals much about the Houthis’ ability to be a long-standing threat in the Arab Peninsula. Most of the 15 per cent of commercial shipping using the Red Sea has now been diverted around southern Africa at great economic cost to western countries. 

The sinking of a UK ship is causing pollution – something at odds with the Houthis’ recent agreement to allow an old oil tanker, SS Safer, to be removed outside Hodeida port because of the potential of leaking oil and an environmental catastrophe. 

The United States’ designation of the Houthis as a terrorist group has complicated humanitarian assistance

Once again, bombs are dropped on specific military targets in Yemen by the United States, UK and their allies bringing more misery to its citizens. They come following nine years of civil war. Like Hamas, the Houthis have no respect for human life and there is a concern they may install rocket and drone launchers in residential neighbourhoods as Hamas has done in Gaza. 

During a recent meeting in Westminster, Yemen’s Vice President Tareq Saleh, representing the coalition in the south of Yemen, indicated the Houthis have been stockpiling weapons to attack international shipping for some years courtesy of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG). The Houthis have a large arsenal of drones, missiles and marine mines. We need to fast track technologies to counteract the drones causing so much damage relatively cheaply. 

Sadly, the internal peace process seems to have stalled. The Saudis, who are leading the peace talks, are concerned with the escalation of the conflict, and the Houthis, who gain much from a peace process, are very clear they do not want the Saudis to support the allies’ airstrikes. The Houthis are resilient and fiercely independent despite being linked with the IRG, so they are unlikely to back down from attacking shipping without good reason.

Yet again, it is the people of Yemen who suffer with the lack of humanitarian aid. Last year, Yemen only received 38 per cent of the aid money required to help the 17.6 million or 50 per cent of the population who are facing food insecurity. 

Half of all children are suffering from moderate to severe stunting. Around 90 per cent of food is imported, so the United States’ designation of the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Group on 16 February has complicated humanitarian assistance. Although there are caveats about aid, financial transfers to the Houthi-controlled areas have become difficult for those who rely on overseas remittances when companies such as Western Union have stopped transfers. 

If the UK does the same, it will mean the end of UK aid to northern Yemen, as our legislation does not allow for aid to be delivered with such a designation. It will also impact on the private sector doing business, which Yemen needs to develop its future economy. 

The region is in grave danger of seeing an escalation. If a ceasefire is forthcoming in Gaza, we will see whether the Houthis will stick to their promise to stop attacking shipping so we can work for peace in both Palestine and Yemen. 

 

Flick Drummond, Conservative MP for Meon Valley and co-chair of the APPG on Yemen. She was also born in Aden, Yemen

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