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A Houthi rebel in Sana, Yemen walks past a building damaged by the Saudi-led air campaign. (Photo: Reuters)

Saudi-Led Airstrikes Destroyed Diplomacy in Yemen, Former UN Envoy Claims

Wall Street Journal reports that before bombing campaign began, progress had been made during the latest round of UN-brokered talks

Deirdre Fulton

Before the Saudi-led coalition began its deadly bombing campaign last month, Yemen's factions were close to reaching a power-sharing deal, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

But the commencement of airstrikes—which have killed scores of civilians and deepened the country's existing humanitarian crisis—threw off those negotiations, the WSJ reported Sunday, citing Jamal Benomar, the United Nations special envoy to Yemen who spearheaded the talks until his resignation last week.

"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," Benomar, a Moroccan diplomat, told the WSJ.

According to the newspaper, progress had been made during the latest round of UN-brokered talks, which began in January and included 12 political and tribal factions:

The Houthi rebels, who have overrun significant parts of the country in the past eight months, had agreed to remove their militias from the cities they were occupying under the deal that had been taking shape. The U.N. had worked out details of a new government force to replace them, Mr. Benomar said.

In exchange, Western-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has since fled the country, would have been part of an executive body that would run the country temporarily, Mr. Benomar said.

The Houthis had agreed to that reduced role for Mr. Hadi until the Saudi military intervention began on March 26. At that point, the Houthis hardened their position on this key point and opposed any role for Mr. Hadi in government, Mr. Benomar said.

Saudi-backed factions have also hardened their positions, saying the Houthis shouldn’t be granted political power.

Meanwhile, contradicting the assertion that the objectives of the military campaign known as Operation Decisive Storm "had been achieved"—and that Saudi Arabia would attempt to reach a political solution to the conflict—the Saudi-led coalition, which includes the U.S., continued airstrikes on Yemen over the weekend.

The New York Times reports: "In addition to the bombings in Sana, the capital, which struck a military base and the presidential palace, the coalition carried out airstrikes in several other provinces, suggesting a broadening, rather than a scaling back, of the month-long Saudi air offensive against Houthi rebels."


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