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Yemen’s grinding six-year war

Published on January 11, 2021

Impoverished Yemen is mired in a devastating conflict between Iran-backed Huthi rebels and government forces backed by Saudi Arabia that has left tens of thousands dead.

With outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo controversially saying Washington will designate the Huthis as terrorists, here is a timeline of the war.

– Saudi-led intervention –

In September 2014, Huthi rebels from the country’s Zaidi Shiite minority in northern Yemen enter the capital Sanaa, seizing the government headquarters.

Backed by Shiite-majority Iran, the rebels ally themselves with military units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to quit after a 2011 uprising.

As well as the capital, they seize swathes of territory including the crucial Red Sea port of Hodeida.

In February 2015, President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi flees to second city Aden.

A coalition led by Saudi Arabia, the bitter regional rival of Iran, enters the conflict on March 26, 2015 with air strikes on the rebels.

Washington says it is contributing logistics and intelligence.

As the rebels advance on Aden, Hadi flees to Saudi Arabia.

The coalition’s intervention helps pro-government forces to secure the southern port city. In October they announce they have retaken control of the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a key waterway for international shipping.

– Battle for aid port –

In June 2018 government fighters, backed by Saudi and Emirati ground forces, launch an offensive to retake Hodeida, a key entry point for aid.

UN-brokered talks between the warring parties open in December, yielding a series of breakthroughs including a ceasefire in Hodeida where fighting largely stops.

– Southern separatists –

The anti-Huthi camp is divided, with fighting breaking out repeatedly between southern separatists and unionist forces loyal to Hadi’s government.

In January 2018 the separatists occupy the presidential palace in Aden, before Saudi and Emirati forces intervene.

South Yemen was an independent state until unifying with the north in 1990.

In August 2019 separatists in Aden from the UAE-trained Security Belt force clash with unionist troops backed by Riyadh.

A power-sharing accord is signed between the two parties in November, but is never implemented.

Finally the separatists declare self-governance for the south on April 26, 2020, and the accord with the government crumbles.

– New escalation –

On January 18 a missile strike on a military camp in the northern town of Marib blamed on the Huthis kills 116 people and injures dozens.

In March the rebels seize Al-Hazm, provincial capital of Al-Jawf province north of Sanaa, after heavy fighting.

In August the army launches a counter-offensive in Al-Jawf province.

– Prisoner swap –

In a rare sign of progress, the biggest prisoner swap between rebels and the government since the start of the conflict takes place in October, with more than 1,000 fighters freed.

The swap comes after the release of two Americans held captive in Yemen in an apparent swap for some 240 Huthi supporters.

In a fresh escalation in November, rebels launch a missile attack on a Saudi Aramco oil facility in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

– Unity government –

On December 18, the government and southern separatists form a new cabinet, forging a joint front against the rebels.

On December 30, moments after the new unity government lands in Aden, explosions rock the airport, killing at least 26 people. Officials blame the rebels.

Since it began, Yemen’s conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, relief agencies say.

– US brand Huthis ‘terrorists’ –

Just 10 days before Donald Trump’s presidency ends, Pompeo says Washington is to officially brand the Huthis terrorists.

Aid groups say the move will worsen the humanitarian situation, while the Huthis denounce the decision saying “the Yemeni people don’t care about any designation from Trump’s administration as it is a partner in killing Yemenis and starving them”.

jah-eab/fg/hkb