Recent Saudi-coalition airstrikes on civilian targets and allegations of kidnappings by coalition mercenaries have whipped up a hornet’s nest among Yemeni tribes.
HODEIDA, YEMEN — Thousands of people took to the streets of Yemen’s capital Sanaa and the port city of Hodeida in western Yemen on Sunday to denounce deadly airstrikes by the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition following a pair of attacks on a fish market and hospital in Hodeida that killed scores of civilians. The protests also came in response to kidnappings targeting women in the district of Tuhaita south of Hodeida on July 29. The protests continued into Monday.
In Hodeida, thousands took to the city’s center, carrying placards and Yemen’s national flags and chanting slogans condemning the series of Saudi attacks that claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians just days before.
Defiant residents marched under the slogan “your crimes will not pass and our blood will prevail.” Demonstrators stressed that Hodeida would be a cemetery for Saudi fighters and their mercenaries, no matter how much they mobilize and regardless of the intensity of their crimes against the people of Yemen.
In Sana’a, Yemeni women took to the streets en masse to denounce the kidnapping of women by coalition-paid mercenaries. Some of the women wielded rifles — underlining the need for protection from the kidnappers — while chanting slogans calling for Yemeni tribes to protect them.
Local radio personality and mother of two, Thekra Abbas, said she attended the protest to ”denounce the dirty acts committed by invading and occupying forces, the latest of which is the kidnapping of the eight women from Tuhaita.”
Last Friday thousands of residents staged a mass rally in the capital Sana’a to condemn the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive against Hodeida, expressing anger at what they called Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen. Angered by heavy civilian losses as well as airstrikes on non-military targets, protesters vowed to defend their country by any means necessary.
The latest kidnapping incident is not the first time Saudi-led coalition forces have been accused of kidnapping women. On July 5, 35-year-old Sameera Mharish was kidnapped by Saudi soldiers after they captured the village of al Jawf in central Yemen, stirring up anger among local tribes that would later mobilize against the coalition. On July 1, a young girl was kidnapped from her home in Ta’ze by coalition forces.
Saudi coalition crosses a Redline
By targeting women for kidnapping, the Saudi-led coalition and the mercenary forces it employs have not only committed war crimes, they crossed a red line in Yemeni society, which is heavily steeped in tribal tradition. The move has whipped up a hornet’s nest of Yemeni tribes, which staged over 20 vigils in Hodeida, Sana’a, Dhamar, and Hajjah — all major strongholds for Yemen’s largest tribes. The largest protest vigil was held in the district of Tahamh in western Yemen, where hundreds of tribesmen belonging to the Zaraniq tribe gathered to discuss potential responses to the abductions.
The head of the Yemeni Tribal Council, Dheif Allah Rasam, said:
The practices of Saudi Arabia in Yemen against our tribes have reached an extent that cannot be tolerated, and cannot be accepted by anyone with an atom of conscience or sense of responsibility and dignity.”
The Saudi-led coalition, unable to secure control of the strategic port city of Hodeida, has flooded cities and towns surrounding the contested city with foreign and indigenous mercenaries, who are often accused of kidnapping women from their homes.
Reports of the kidnappings, as well as the attack on Hodeida`s hospital and fish market, sparked a mass mobilization of tribal fighters in Yemen’s southwest.
Huge numbers of Yemeni residents have already responded by taking to the battlefield this week in the largest draw of tribal fighters since the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition began its offensive on the strategic port of Hodeida two months ago.
On Monday, Yemeni tribal fighters carried out an attack on several battalions of Saudi-led mercenaries, killing or injuring more than 80, including high-level mercenary commanders. Sixty mercenary fighters were also reportedly captured in the attack, which took place in the district of Dreihemi, 60 km from Hodeida.
UN peace efforts fail to stem violence
The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition says it supports UN-sponsored peace talks in Yemen but has, in fact, done little to reach a political solution to the conflict.
On Sunday, the Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation, Reem al-Hashemi, told journalists in Abu Dhabi, “We have always been in support of the [UN] special envoy, we are going to continue to do so.” However — as Salim Meghles, a member of the political wing of the Houthi (Ansar Allah) movement, said in a recent statement — the coalition has not shown “any serious or real stance toward reaching a political solution.”
During Friday’s protest in Sana’a, the head of the Houthi Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said Yemen’s army will target all member countries of the Saudi-led coalition, even if they were underground, in retaliation for the escalation of coalition attacks on Hodeida. He did not refer to the resumption of the retaliatory attacks against coalition vessels in the Red Sea.
On August 1, Yemen’s Houthis submitted an initiative to bring an end to the conflict in Yemen and unilaterally suspended retaliatory attacks against Saudi-led coalition forces in the Red Sea to support that effort. But as coalition attacks intensify, Houthi officials have signaled that the initiative may not reach its two-week limit.
On Tuesday, an unmanned Houthi long-range drone targeted a Saudi command center in Camp Ambrah on Yemen’s west coast, 20 km from Hodeida. A source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the drone had successfully bombed the camp, causing a “huge explosion.” The death toll and the extent of damage from the attack are still unknown.
In a separate incident, Yemen’s armed forces fired a short-range, Zelzal-1 missile at a Saudi military base in the kingdom’s southwest province if Jizan. Yemeni snipers also killed a Saudi soldier in Jabal al-Doud in the same Saudi province, and three Saudi soldiers were killed by Yemeni sharpshooters at Jizan’s al-Mash’al military base, according to a military source.
On Thursday, the UN envoy said that he was still trying to negotiate a deal to avoid a full-blown battle for Hodeida, expressing worries that Hodeida could be a flashpoint that could derail the push for talks in September.
The Saudi-led coalition has taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories with the aid of advanced U.S. weapons and military equipment, as well as logistical and intelligence assistance.
Top Photo | Yemeni tribesmen hold their weapons and chant slogans during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, May 26, 2016. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.