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Yemen factions close to deal before Saudi raid: Resigned UN envoy

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A Saudi army artillery cannon fires shells towards Yemen from a post close to the Saudi-Yemeni border, in southwestern Saudi Arabia, on April 13, 2015. © AFP

The recently resigned UN envoy to Yemen says Yemeni political factions were on the verge of a power-sharing deal when Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against Sana’a.

Jamal Benomar told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday that Riyadh’s military campaign derailed the negotiations between Yemeni warring parties aimed at forming a unity government, which would have included Houthi Ansarullah fighters.

“When this campaign started, one thing that was significant but went unnoticed is that the Yemenis were close to a deal that would institute power-sharing with all sides, including the Houthis,” said Benomar, who spearheaded the negotiations until he resigned last week.

A Yemeni walks past a vehicle damaged during an airstrike on April 20, 2015 by Saudi warplanes on Fajj Attan hill in the capital Sana’a  . © AFP


Benomar resigned on April 15 due to sharp criticism from Saudi Arabia and its allies for what they called his little success in influencing the political scene in Yemen in their favor.

Saudi Arabia launched its air campaign against Yemen on March 26 - without a United Nations mandate - in a bid to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and to restore power to former fugitive President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh.

Hadi stepped down in January and refused to reconsider the decision despite calls by the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

However, the Ansarullah movement later said Hadi had lost his legitimacy as president of Yemen after he escaped the capital, Sana’a, to Aden in February.

On March 25, the ex-president fled the southern city of Aden, where he had sought to set up a rival power base, to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, after popular committees, backed by Ansarullah revolutionaries, advanced on Aden.

The Ansarullah fighters took control of the Yemeni capital in September 2014. The revolutionaries said Hadi’s government was incapable of properly running the affairs of the country and containing the growing wave of corruption and terror.

Benomar said that Houthi fighters had agreed to withdraw from the cities they were controlling under the deal that had been taking shape, and that the UN had worked out details of a new government force to replace them.

In exchange, Western-backed fugitive former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi would have been part of an executive body that would run the country temporarily, Benomar said.

The Houthis had agreed to that reduced role for Hadi until Riyadh launched it military aggression against Yemen, he said, adding this led to the Houthis’ opposition to any role for Hadi in government.

“A very detailed agreement was being worked out, but there was one important issue on which there was no agreement, and that was what to do with the presidency,” Benomar said, adding “We were under no illusion that implementation of this would be easy.”

Benomar is scheduled to address the UN Security Council behind closed doors on Monday and to report on the suspended political talks in Yemen.

Armed militiamen loyal to Yemen's fugitive former President Hadi stand next to a rocket launcher during reported clashes with Huthi fighters in the port city of Aden's Breiqa district, on April 25, 2015. © AFP


On Friday, former Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh urged all sides involved in the conflict in the impoverished country, including the Ansarullah fighters and forces loyal to Hadi, to “return to dialogue,” adding that he was ready to reconcile with all Yemeni political factions.

The 73-year-old former Yemeni leader, who stepped down in February 2012, further called on the army and security forces to come under the control of local authorities in each province.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia pushes ahead with its deadly air raids against neighboring Yemen.

According to latest figures released by the World Health Organization, the death toll from the violence in Yemen since late March has exceeded 1,000.


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