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Calls grow to end siege of major Yemen city

September 08, 2022
topic:Peace and Reconciliation
tags:#Yemen, #Houthi rebels, #humanitarian crisis, #Taiz, #United Nations
by:Mubarak Al-Yousifi
The continued failure to reopen the roads to Taiz has resulted in a swelling humanitarian crisis and may amount to a war crime. Demands to end the siege now thunder both within and outside the city.

Anwar Ahmed, 38, is a Yemeni worker from Hawban District in the eastern part of the now besieged city of Taiz. He has been working at a commercial factory in Howban for ten years.

"I used to go back to my home [in Taiz] in just 20 minutes," Ahmed told FairPlanet, "but now I am forced to travel a long, rugged and hard trip to get back [...] and it takes me eight hours."

Ahmed's plight, which is shared by all residents of Taiz, is the result of the imposed siege on the city by the Shiite Houthi rebel group (Ansar Allah), which began in March 2016. The siege has drawn broad condemnation by local and international rights groups and activists.

Houthi rebels have been in battle with the Yemeni government since 2015.

"Since 2015, [I've been forced to take], like other people, an alternative mountain and hard road to go back to my home in the middle of Taiz City," Ahmed added. He went on saying that this alternate road is extremely treacherous and prone to accidents due to congestion of car traffic and heavy rainfall.  

Taiz residents pay the price

The Houthi siege encompasses all border ports of the city of Taiz, which led to the mounting suffering of more than 5 million people in the area. 

In an attempt to bypass the siege, residents have paved an alternative mountain road - but one which is extremely narrow and significantly extends the time it takes to reach the city (roughly eight hours). Furthermore, one must have a four-wheeler in order to drive through it. 

The lengthy path begins in Hawban District and trails through steep mountains and difficult roads which ultimately lead to Taiz.

To compare, before the imposed siege the trip from Hawban to Taiz city would take just 15 minutes. 

In addition to closing the border ports of Taiz, Houthi rebels have also shut down most roads leading to the internationally recognised government-held areas, and the humanitarian crisis afflicting the besieged residents of Taiz has been progressively worsening. The siege has hindered the flow of essential goods, medicine and humanitarian aid, and high transportation costs have caused the price of food products to soar.  

UN intervention fails to lift the siege

On 2 April, 2022, the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, announced a two-month truce between the internationally recognised Yemeni government and Houthi rebels. The main elements of the truce included releasing all detainees by both parties, re-opening the Sana'a airport for commercial flights, allowing oil transports to the Hodeidah port and opening the main roads of cities around Taiz. 

Yemeni citizens have roundly welcomed the announced UN-brokered truce, as did the international community. Most international diplomatic missions issued statements endorsing the truce. One such statement, made by the High Representative of the EU Mission, Josep Borrell, lauded the truce and urged all fighting parties to implement its commitments.

Borrell also called for all involved parties to continue their constructive engagement with the UN Special Envoy in order to reach a long-term ceasefire agreement, embark on immediate economic and humanitarian relief efforts and resume the political process. 

Following the announcement of the truce, thousands of protesters in Taiz took to the streets and angrily demanded its immediate implementation - particularly the stipulation regarding the reopening of main roads around the city.

Alas, months after the announcement of the agreement, it has yet to be fully implemented. And while some of the stipulations were embraced, such as halting the Saudi-led Coalition's airstrikes, opening Hodeidah port to fuel ships and, most recently, operating a few civil flights between Sana'a airport and Amman, Jordan, the parties have failed to reopen the main roads of cities around Taiz. 

In late May, consultations were held between the Yemeni parties in the capital of Jordan, Amman, under the auspices of the UN, but failed to make any advances. After that, the UN Special Envoy offered a proposal to open the roads gradually, a condition agreed upon by both parties, according to an official statement of the UN Special Envoy.

The proposal included opening several main roads, including one around Taiz. 

In addition, the UN Special Envoy announced another proposal to open four main roads around Taiz, and urged both parties to open the agreed upon roads in Taiz and other governorates.  

But although the proposals were welcomed by all Yemeni parties,  none of them has been implemented yet. Both parties accused each other of circumventing the truce implementation.

In July, following an ongoing back-and-forth between the parties, the Houthis announced they would unilaterally open another unofficial road around Taiz, but did not do so. The road in question is unpaved, rugged and full of mines, according to citizens who spoke to FairPlanet. 

Forging a path forward

Since late 2015, more than twelve civil initiatives have been advocating to lift the siege on Taiz and open safe roads for civilians. Some of these initiatives were established under the auspices of the UN, but none have succeeded thus far. 

Last month, more than a dozen rights groups - including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International - called on Houthi rebels to end the siege on Taiz, citing the rapidly deteriorating living conditions of residents trapped in the city.

According to Ali Gameel, officer of accountability at the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, the imposed siege on Taiz by both fighting parties is amounting to a war crime.

Speaking to FairPlanet, Gameel pointed out that it is crucial to activate an accountability procedure by the international community, the members of the General Secretary and the UN Human Rights Council that would conduct a criminal investigation to determine which party is responsible for the siege and impose tough sanctions on it.      

Olfat Dobai, a sociology professor at the University of Taiz, told FairPlanet that the reason for the recurring failure to open the roads around Taiz is the Houthi's exploitation of the humanitarian crisis in Taiz as a political bargaining tool in negotiations.

"Both fighting parties shall not use the opening roads in Taiz as a political or military dossier," Dobai said, "but as a humanitarian one."

"And if they held negotiations in good faith and for humanitarian reasons," she added, "the roads would reopen." 

Image by Mubarak Al-Yousifi

Article written by:
Mubarak Al-Yousifi
In an attempt to bypass the siege, residents have paved an alternative mountain road.
© Mubarak Al-Yousifi
In an attempt to bypass the siege, residents have paved an alternative mountain road.
The lengthy path begins in Hawban District and trails through steep mountains and treacherous, accident-prone roads.
© Mubarak Al-Yousifi
The lengthy path begins in Hawban District and trails through steep mountains and treacherous, accident-prone roads.
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