The situation could get even worse. Yemen’s new presidential council is “ready for war” if the current peace bid with the Houthi rebels fails but wants the conflict to end quickly, one of its members told AFP. “Our first option is peace but we are ready for war,” Abdallah al-Alimi said on Saturday evening in his first interview since his appointment to an eight-member council responsible for leading the country following the surprise resignation of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on April 7.
“We believe the council, with the support of the coalition, is in a position to win a decisive military victory,” al-Alimi added. Hadi’s internationally recognized government had been locked in a seven-year conflict with the Iran-backed Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and most of the country’s north, despite supporting military intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in 2015.
This war caused one of the most serious humanitarian tragedies in the world, leaving hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced and pushing a large part of the population to the brink of starvation. Hadi’s resignation and the creation of the presidential council came after talks in the Saudi capital bringing together anti-Houthi factions but boycotted by the rebels, who consider Riyadh as “enemy” territory.
The United Nations finally in Yemen
These developments followed the announcement in early April of a renewable two-month truce that brought a rare respite to the country and raised cautious hopes that the war would finally end. “We hope the dire situation in Yemen will give people the desire to leave personal and partisan interests behind to seek peace,” continued Alimi, who is Hadi’s former chief of staff.
Members of the presidential council are due to meet in the coming days with the United Nations special envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, who last week traveled to Sanaa for the first time to hold talks with Houthi leaders. After meeting Grundberg, the council will travel to the country, to a location al-Alimi declined to specify, to take the oath.
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The council has also not yet decided how much time it will allow the Houthis to return to the negotiating table, the leader said, adding that the talks could be held in a more neutral setting in the future, like in neighboring Oman. However, the rebels have so far been dismissive, denouncing the new presidential council as “a desperate attempt to close the ranks of mercenaries” fighting in Yemen.
“The Houthis do not consider themselves in conflict with the Yemenis”
Observers also recall that the Houthis have conditioned peace on the departure of foreign forces and some believe that they are really only interested in talks with the Saudis. “The Houthis do not consider themselves in conflict with the Yemenis. They see themselves in conflict with Saudi Arabia,” says Fatima Abo Alasrar, of the Middle East Institute in Washington.
If peace efforts fail, anti-Houthi forces are in a position to pursue “a concerted multi-pronged campaign” against the rebels, provided the heterogeneous presidential council members stick together, according to his opinion. from Peter Salisbury, Yemen analyst for the International Crisis Group. ” They (the presidential council) have the ability to more aggressively seek peace and more aggressively pursue war, and the most likely outcome is that they do a bit of both,” he continues.