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Yemen rivals set for Swiss talks on deadly conflict
By Taieb Mahjoub
Dubai (AFP) Dec 13, 2015

Yemen: from rebels seizing Sanaa to the rise of IS
Dubai (AFP) Dec 13, 2015 - Key dates in Yemen since Shiite Huthi rebels overran the capital Sanaa.

September 21, 2014: Huthi rebels seize government headquarters, state radio and military sites in Sanaa, several months after an advance from their northern stronghold of Saada.

February 21, 2014: President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi escapes house arrest and flees south to second city Aden. Rebels advance on the south.

March 26, 2015: Saudi Arabia begins Operation Decisive Storm with air strikes on the rebels after forging a coalition of nine countries to defend Hadi. Iran opposes the intervention.

May 5: Huthis bombard the Saudi border town of Najran, killing several people in the first such attack since the coalition operation began. So far at least 80 people, mostly soldiers and border guards, have been killed in Saudi Arabia because of the Yemen conflict.

June 16: Al-Qaeda confirms that its chief in Yemen, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, has been killed in a suspected US drone strike, and names military chief Qassem al-Rimi as the regional affiliate's new leader.

June 17: More than 30 people killed in bombings claimed by the Islamic State group at Shiite mosques and offices in Sanaa. The attacks come almost three months after IS killed 142 people in bombings at Shiite mosques in the capital.

July 17: Yemen's exiled Prime Minister Khaled Bahah announces the liberation of Aden province after more than four months of fighting.

July 22: Pro-government forces backed by Saudi air strikes strengthen their hold on Aden, allowing growing amounts of humanitarian aid to be shipped in.

August 15: Loyalist forces retake a fifth southern province, extending their gains against the rebels who still control the capital.

September 4: An arms depot blast the rebels say was a rocket attack kills 52 soldiers from the United Arab Emirates, 10 Saudi troops and five from Bahrain. Thousands of heavily equipped Gulf Arab soldiers are sent to Yemen.

September 13: Forces loyal to Hadi, backed by the coalition, begin a major ground offensive in Marib province east of the capital.

September 28: A suspected coalition air strike kills at least 131 civilians at a wedding near the Red Sea city of Mokha. The coalition denies involvement.

October 6: Bahah survives an attack in Aden claimed by IS but officially blamed on the rebels.

November 17: President Hadi returns from exile in Saudi Arabia to Aden.

December 6: A car bombing claimed by IS kills Aden's recently appointed governor.

December 8: The government says the country's warring sides are preparing to observe a week-long truce to coincide with UN-mediated peace talks to start on December 15 in Switzerland.

Yemeni government and rebel representatives meet in Switzerland Tuesday for UN-brokered peace talks, likely to be accompanied by a ceasefire, aimed at ending a deadly conflict exploited by jihadists.

More than a year after Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels swept into Yemen's capital Sanaa in the first sparks of civil war, no faction has emerged victorious.

And Arab states which intervened militarily in March to back President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government have found themselves drawn further into a quagmire in the deeply tribal country, home to what the United States considers to be Al-Qaeda's deadliest branch, experts say.

Hopes are high that a renewable seven-day ceasefire could begin on the eve of the talks which will be open-ended and held at an undisclosed location.

A truce is much needed in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest nation where an estimated 80 percent of the population of 26 million needs aid.

The United Nations says more than 5,800 people have been killed in Yemen, about half of them civilians, and more than 27,000 wounded since March.

Medical and military sources said on Sunday that at least 44 people have been killed in Saudi-led coalition air raids and fighting between loyalists and rebels ahead of the possible truce.

Previous UN efforts have failed to narrow differences, and past ceasefires have failed to hold.

But this time "there is a real chance for a breakthrough", said Emirati analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who believes "there will be concessions from both sides".

"Gulf Arab states have reached a point where they are convinced it is about time a peaceful solution should be given a better chance" to succeed, he told AFP.

- Expensive intervention -

The option of a political solution was highlighted Thursday in Riyadh during the annual summit of the energy-rich Gulf Cooperation Council states, whose military involvement in Yemen is starting to weigh on their budgets, already hit by the fall in oil prices.

Yemen's conflict has pitted local forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in support of Hadi's government against the Huthis and renegade troops still loyal to wealthy ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Huthis and Saleh hail from the Zaidi Shiite community, which makes up 30 percent of Yemen's mostly Sunni population but is the majority in the northern highlands, including Sanaa province.

Oman, the only GCC country not in the coalition, has managed to "convince" rival regional heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia to "stop" their proxy war in Yemen, according to London-based analyst Abdelwahab Badrakhan.

The sultanate enjoys good relations with both Riyadh and Tehran.

The warring sides have agreed to sit at the same table despite mutual mistrust, mainly over UN Security Council Resolution 2216 which calls for rebels to withdraw from key cities and surrender their weapons.

The resolution is a mainstay of the position of the government and its Gulf backers.

"It is difficult to see the Huthis implement this resolution as this would signal an acknowledgement of their defeat," said Badrakhan.

According to UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, talks will focus on four main areas, including the terms of a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of armed groups from areas they control.

- Fighting stalemate -

In 2014, the Huthis advanced from their northern strongholds before occupying government buildings in Sanaa in September that year and forcing Hadi into exile in Saudi Arabia months later.

In mid-November this year, Hadi returned to second city Aden which he declared the provisional capital.

Under cover of coalition warplanes and backed by Arab soldiers and heavy weaponry, the Popular Resistance forces -- an alliance of southern separatists, local tribesmen and loyalist troops -- have recaptured four southern provinces and Aden since July.

But they have failed to advance any further as rebel attacks on the south continue and Sunni extremist groups gain ground.

Attempts by pro-Hadi forces to retake the strategic province of Taez have also failed as fighting rages with little or no change on the ground.

The government's proposal for a truce followed last week's killing of the governor of Aden in a blast claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.

In October, IS claimed a series of deadly attacks in Aden.

"Alarmed by the growing jihadist threat in territories under its control following the attacks in Aden, the government has no choice but to soften its position and act positively," said Badrakhan.

Abdulla agrees that IS and Al-Qaeda, already well established in Yemen's south, are "a common enemy that puts pressure on both sides of the Yemeni conflict, as well as Gulf countries".

"Nobody wants to see Daesh (Arabic acronym for IS) settle in Yemen and create a base as dangerous as that it has established in Syria," he said.

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Previous Report
Yemen's Huthis name delegates to UN-brokered peace talks
Sanaa (AFP) Dec 11, 2015
Yemen's Shiite Huthi rebels have submitted names of their negotiating team to the United Nations for next week's peace talks in Switzerland, their spokesman said Friday. Reports had circulated that Huthi rebel leaders had been dragging their feet and refusing to name their delegates in an apparent bid to further stall dialogue. But UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has said he was certai ... read more

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