Yemen: Egypt, Saudi Arabia discuss launching a "major military manoeuvre"

UN has imposed an arms embargo targeting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels who now control most of the country
Yemen: Egypt, Saudi Arabia discuss launching a
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi (AFP/Getty Images)
By Reuters
Wed 15 Apr 2015 09:50 AM

The UN Security
Council on Tuesday imposed an arms embargo targeting the Iran-allied Houthi
rebels who now control most of Yemen as battles in the south of the country
intensified.

Egypt said it
and Saudi Arabia had discussed holding a "major military manoeuvre"
in Saudi Arabia with other Gulf states, following talks on the progress of the
three-week-old Saudi-led campaign of air strikes against the Houthis in Yemen.

The statement
from the Egyptian presidency appeared to be a sign that members of the Sunni
Arab coalition attacking the Houthis may carry through on threats to eventually
follow their air campaign with a ground intervention or at least have a show of
force next door.

Arab states
have been bombing the Houthis in support of militias resisting an advance by
the group and army units loyal to ousted former president Yemen President Ali
Abdullah Saleh.

The conflict,
though rooted in local rivalries, has become a proxy battlefield for
Sunni-ruled Saudi and mainly Shi'ite Iran, the main regional powers.

The UN
resolution also demanded the Houthis stop fighting and withdraw from areas they
have seized, including the capital Sanaa.

On the ground,
southern militiamen claimed gains against the Houthis on several battlefronts
across southern Yemen, including districts of the port city of Aden, the last
stronghold of loyalists to Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Iran meanwhile
prepared to submit a four-point peace plan for Yemen to the United Nations on
Wednesday, state media said.

Tehran's
proposal includes a call for an end to Saudi-led air strikes against the
Houthis and is likely to anger Riyadh, which accuses Iran of meddling in the
affairs of its southern neighbour.

The Security
Council on Tuesday imposed a global asset freeze and travel ban on Ahmed Saleh,
the former head of Yemen's Republican Guard, and on Abdulmalik Al Houthi, a
Houthi leader.

Saleh's father,
former president Saleh, and two other senior Houthi leaders, Abd Al Khaliq
Al Huthi and Abdullah Yahya Al Hakim, had been blacklisted by the Security
Council in November.

The Security
Council also expressed concern at what it called "destabilizing
actions" taken by former President Saleh, including supporting the
Houthis.

The elder
Saleh, who was forced to step down in 2012, is widely seen as having a
behind-the scenes role in the conflict in league with the Houthis.

The resolution
imposed an arms embargo on the five men and "those acting on their behalf
or at their direction in Yemen" - effectively the Houthis and soldiers
loyal to Saleh who are fighting alongside the Houthis.

A statement
from the Houthi leadership condemned the resolution, which it said supported
"aggression".

The council
voted 14 in favor, while Russia abstained, saying some of its proposals for the
resolution drafted by council member Jordan and Gulf Arab states were not
included.

"The
co-sponsors refused to include the requirements insisted upon by Russia
addressed to all sides to the conflict to swiftly halt fire and to begin peace
talks," Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the
vote.

Iranian Foreign
Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking in Madrid earlier on Tuesday, said
Tehran's peace initiative involved a ceasefire, humanitarian assistance, a
dialogue between Yemeni factions and a broad-based government.

"This
issue should be resolved by the Yemenis. Iran and Saudi Arabia need to talk but
we cannot talk to determine the future of Yemen," he told a news conference.

The Houthis,
northern-based Shi'ite Muslims, seized control of Sanaa in September, confining
Hadi to his presidential residence. He fled to Aden in February then escaped to
Riyadh last month as Houthi forces closed in on the city.

Saudi Arabia and
other powers accuse Iran of arming the Houthis and interfering in Yemeni
affairs. Tehran denies giving military support to the Houthis.

Riyadh says it
is protecting Hadi and his government-in-exile from the Houthis. But as the
world' largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia is also unhappy at the prospect of
protracted upheaval in its southern neighbour.

Nearby shipping
lanes and the narrow Bab El Mandeb passage, through which nearly 4 million
barrels of oil are shipped daily to Europe, the United States and Asia, could
also be at risk from the fighting.

Al Qaeda, which
has staged suicide bombings against the Houthis, also poses a threat to Yemen's
stability. The United States has poured aid and personnel into the country in
recent years as part of its war on Islamist militants, but its military teams
evacuated last month amid the worsening civil war.

Al Qaeda in
Yemen announced on Tuesday that its spiritual leader was killed by a US air
strike, according to a statement distributed by the group online.

Ibrahim
al-Rubaish was a Saudi national released from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in
2006.

His death may
be a sign that a covert US drone programme against Yemen's branch of the global
militant group continues despite the American military withdrawal.

Separately, al
Qaeda said it killed fifteen soldiers fleeing homeward from a military base
near Balhaf in the east of the country. A local official told Reuters the men
were captured and stabbed to death outside the nearby city of Ataq.

Southern
militia sources said they wrested control of the army base loyal to the Houthis
after heavy fighting on Monday night near the Balhaf liquefied natural gas
(LNG) plant, in southern Shabwa province on the Arabian Sea.

Yemen LNG, the
company managing the facility, said it had halted production due to insecurity
and was evacuating staff. The plant was intact and its surrounding area secure,
it said.

After prolonged
street fighting in the southern city of Aden, Houthi fighters withdrew on
Tuesday from Aden's Khor Maksar district, where the international airport and
foreign missions are located.

The pull-out
deprives the Houthis of a bridge to downtown areas where they face heavy
resistance from local fighters.

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