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Peace in Yemen? Not if some fighters have their way

Hopes for a peace deal in Yemen are high, with talks due this week. But for some, any lull in fighting would mean more violence in the future
A pro-government fighter believes the Houthis will use any ceasefire to resupply and strengthen their lines (AFP)

AL-MUKALLAH, Yemen - Abdullah al-Ashraf, a pro-government fighter in the northern province of Jawf, Yemen, considers the prospect of a ceasefire with the Houthis. Would his men observe it?

“No, we would not. The national army and Jawf resistance have clearly expressed their stand from the ceasefire. We reject any truce with the Houthis,” al-Ashraf told Middle East Eye from the province’s border with Marib.

Unlike many battlefields where government forces are facing deadlock, Jawf fighters who have recently crossed the province from the neighbouring Mareb managed to push the rebels out of some remote villages.

Ashraf, who says he speaks for all of his comrades, thinks the truce would give the rebels a breathing space to funnel in more military reinforcements.

“The lull will enable them to regroup, send more military reinforcements and dig trenches,” Ashraf said. “The ceasefire would save their necks."

He added that his fighters and army troops had "successfully” executed the first phase of their military plan, that includes taking control of scattered areas in the border with Mareb.

“We have taken control of many villages like Adwan and Lagsha’a. The second phase will include recapturing al-Hazem, the capital of Jawf province. [On Sunday] we controlled al-Selah, the first region in al-Hazem district,” he said.

On the Houthi side in nearby Mareb, the pro-Hadi military chief of staff, Mohammed al-Magadeshi said on Sunday that his forces would cease fire if the order came into effect.

But Ashraf said any ceasefire would endanger his military plans: “Post-truce battles would be more aggressive as Houthi fighters would receive more arms.”

It is a sobering response to hopes that a deal can be struck which will end the bloodshed in Yemen, which has for months suffered as violence escalated between Houthi forces and those of the Saudi-backed Hadi.

The Houthis have demanded a ceasefire before any negotiations take place - a condition which, up until last week, Hadi had dismissed.

However, analysts have cast doubts about the ability of warring sides to respect any truce, citing previous short-lived ceasefires and continuing military activities on the ground.

Ali Fakih, the editor of al-Masder newspaper, told MEE that during previous ceasefires only the air strikes halted, and ground fighting continued.

“I do not expect the ceasefire to be holding as all indications on the ground show that escalation is taking place. If we went back to previous truces, we would find out that only coalition warplanes stuck to the truce while fighting continued unabated,” he said.

Fakih said that Houthis did not offer any goodwill gesture to show that they were going to abide by the truce.

“The party that imposes a blockade on a city [Taiz] and banned humanitarian, medicine and oxygen from reaching hospitals will not respect any truce,” he said.

Indeed in Taiz, Sami Noaman, a political analyst, said that the Houthis focused on drawing attention to the Saudi air strikes in Yemen as they see their military operations internally as justified.

“In their statements, the Houthis only highlight halting what they call as the ‘foreign aggression’ in reference to air strikes by the Arab coalition. They do not talk about their operations inside Yemen.”

On Monday, the Supreme Medical Committee in Taiz said in an appeal to the international community that many patients in the city’s hospital are dying due to shortage of oxygen and vital medicine. Houthis are imposing a siege on the city to force resistance fighters to capitulate.