Deep divisions slow Yemen truce effort

Scuffles break out at Houthi news conference in Geneva amid discord over size of delegation from Sanaa for peace talks.

The Yemen peace talks under way in the Swiss city of Geneva have hit a deadlock after the parties involved failed to reach an agreement on the number of delegates who can participate in the talks.

A UN official said on Tuesday that every delegation should consist of only 10 members.

“Seven delegation members and three advisers in order to have equality between the two groups,” said Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN chief’s special envoy for Yemen.

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However, the delegation from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, which includes the Iran-allied Houthis, consists of 22 members.

And the delegation members are adamant that all 22 take part in the peace negotiations.

“As a matter of fact, we cannot reduce the number of our delegations because the 22 people here represent a dozen different political parties,” Yasser al-Awadi, a member of the Yemeni delegation, said.

“None of them wants to hand over their negotiation power to someone else.”

Saudis absent

The organisers of the peace talks are struggling to bring together the rival Yemeni factions, with discussions due to conclude on Friday or Saturday.

Awadi said he is not very optimistic about the talks because Saudi Arabia, which backs the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is conspicuous by its absence in Geneva.

He said the delegation from Sanaa is looking for a general ceasefire in Yemen, rather than a partial ceasefire for the month of Ramadan, which is why the members want to negotiate with the Saudis.

Tensions between the warring Yemeni sides spilled over at a news conference in Geneva on Thursday when a shoe was thrown at the head of the Houthi delegation, Hamza al-Houthi, an act that is particularly insulting in Arab culture.

Tensions between different Yemeni factions spilled over at a Houthi news conference in Geneva on Thursday [AP]
Tensions between different Yemeni factions spilled over at a Houthi news conference in Geneva on Thursday [AP]

The journalist who threw the shoe said she was seeking to vent her anger at the Houthis.

“I am willing to lose my career as a journalist but not watch you kill our people every day, then come and attend a peace conference,” she said.

In Thursday’s other diplomatic developments, Khaled Bahah, Yemeni prime minister and vice president, held talks with Nabil Elaraby, Arab League’s secretary-general, in Cairo on Thursday after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Speaking at the Arab League headquarters after the talks, Elaraby said: “It’s clear that all the Arab countries support legitimacy in Yemen and are trying to provide all types of aid.”

‘Tactical measure’

Bahah said he is hoping for a permanent humanitarian ceasefire, not a temporary truce.

The current truce has been exploited by the Houthis and used as a tactical measure by some parties, he said.

“The Houthis use slogans of mercy, as we call it. They say we want a humanitarian truce, but the truth of this humanitarian truce is not sincere. Meaning, there was a five-day humanitarian truce and, through that, they managed to take over a number of areas,” Bahah said.

”So there is no temporary humanitarian truce. God willing, there will be a permanent humanitarian truce. This is our message in Geneva.”

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The developments come against a backdrop of continued fighting on the ground in Yemen.

On Thursday, about 30 were killed in clashes between Houthi fighters and tribesmen in the central province of Marib, tribal sources said, while Sanaa was hit by Arab coalition air strikes targeting Houthi military sites.

Elsewhere, Houthi fighters, who are backed by troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, were accused of targeting residential areas in the city of Taiz and bombarding areas near the ancient Al-Qahera Citadel.

Witnesses said a mosque was hit during the shelling and a hotel and homes in the nearby Al-Ukhwa mountain region were targeted.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies