Amid growing civilian casualties, Red Cross and Russia have separately appealed for a ceasefire in the war-torn Yemen on humanitarian grounds to enable the delivery of medical aid and the evacuation of foreigners. To push this, Russia has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council; it reportedly calls for a pause in the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes, while not mandating any time limit for the ceasefire nor demanding a Houthi retreat.
The present state of affairs are ominously akin to the months preceding the Syrian civil war. With the country in chaos, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) captured the regional army headquarters at Mukalla and raided the Mukalla Central Prison, April 2 to free over 150 inmates- including one of their regional commanders- Khalil Saeed Batarfi, who then gloated over his release by releasing photos of him cavorting inside the Mukalla governor’s residence.
While it remains unclear as to why there was no stiff resistance put up by the Yemeni Army under the control of President Hadi, Yemeni tribesmen moved towards Mukalla in an effort to retake it on April 4. Within a day, it seems that they have been able to drive out the Al Qaeda from most parts of the port town, who apparently have not offered much resistance. Yet. Reportedly the tribesmen are part of an alliance in the south eastern Hadramawt province (of which Mukalla is the capital) which has pledged to restore security in their area. Thus, while it appears that the AQAP is utilising the security vacuum created by deterioration of the government apparatus, rebel forces acknowledge the dangers of ignoring Al Qaeda build up and its commanders are taking immediate steps to tackle it. How far they will be successful remains to be seen.
The US, which has been carrying out covert drone strikes against AQAP, fears that Al Qaeda may be benefitting from this war. Adam Schiff, Democratic Representative on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told ABC news recently that Yemen had become a jihadi safe haven, marked by Al Qaeda’s resurgence.
And the situation is constantly escalating. In what could be their most significant move as yet, Riyadh has begun parachuting weaponry fighters loyal to Hadi, which enabled them to push back Houthi rebels from Central Aden, last week. Reuters reported that the arms drop included crates of light weapons, telecommunications equipment and rocket-propelled grenades, not just logistical equipment as claimed by spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri.
A UN mandated ceasefire at this juncture would be opposed by the Sunni coalition as they believe the tide of battle may be turning in their favour. But a humanitarian pause may allow peripheral nations to limit their involvement if their citizens are moved to safety. India has so far evacuated 2300 of its citizens, but following the intensified fighting at the port of Aden and the deteriorating situation in Sa’na (which houses the sole functioning airstrip), it may be difficult to maintain the pace of evacuation.
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