Middle East

People in Taiz disappointed after talks fail to end Houthi siege

AL-MUKALLA: Yemenis in Taiz, a densely populated city in the southwest of the country, have expressed disappointment after discussions between the Yemeni government and the Houthis in the Jordanian capital of Amman failed to lift the Houthi blockade on the city.

The UN Yemen envoy, Hans Grundberg, on Saturday said that the first round of talks did not lead to an agreement on opening roads in Taiz and the other provinces.

The announcement ruined the hopes of thousands of people in Taiz who voiced optimism that the UN-brokered discussions could bring an end to the siege.

“When the discussions started, we expressed hopes that the siege would be finally lifted,” Khaled Al-Qadhi, a photographer, told Arab News by telephone from the besieged city.

A demonstrator joins a protest demanding the end of the Taiz blockade. (AFP)

“But the hopes vanished when the Houthi negotiators showed up in talks with military uniform.”

The Iran-backed Houthis have imposed a siege on Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, for the past seven years after they failed to capture the city after fierce resistance from government troops.

The Houthis blocked the main entrances and roads that link the city with Aden, Sanaa and Hodeidah and planted landmines and deployed snipers to target people attempting to pass through the blocked roads.

Al-Qadhi said that the Houthi siege has forced many patients battling cancer and kidney failure into using unpaved and steep roads to reach health facilities in the city.

“Some people in Taiz see their houses in the Houthi-controlled side of the city but cannot visit them due to the siege,” Al-Qadhi said.

“They have to travel for seven to eight hours to reach them,” the photographer added.

“The economic situation here is very difficult.”

Discussions between the government and the Houthis began on Wednesday and were meant to reach an agreement on opening roads in Taiz and the other provinces under the UN-brokered truce.

The Yemeni government negotiators said that the Houthis resisted the idea of opening the main roads in Taiz and they suggested opening a new narrow road.

Local media reports said that the UN Yemen envoy would be visiting the port city of Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, to discuss opening roads in Taiz and extending the truce with the president of the Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, and the government.  

Yemenis urged their leaders to reject the Houthi proposal for opening small roads, pressuring them to push for the complete lifting of the Houthi blockade and reject any renewal of the truce if the Houthis refuse to end the siege.

“We want the Presidential Council to lift the siege in any way it sees fit — militarily or politically,” Maher Al-Abesi, an activist, told Arab News.

“We want to live in peace like the rest of the provinces where people move safely between their villages and cities,” said Al-Abesi.

Other Yemenis criticized their government for accepting the opening of Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port before the Houthi lifted their siege on Taiz.

But the Yemeni government officials responded by saying that they accepted opening the airport before ending the Taiz siege as to end the Houthi excuses for not accepting peace efforts to end the war.

“This great concession during the truce was meant to build confidence and also to put the Houthis in a narrow corner to accept going to negotiations to get Yemen out of this long-running war,” Najeeb Ghallab, an undersecretary at the Information Ministry, told Arab News, adding that the Houthis will be using the truce to build up their forces outside the city before launching a new military operation to take control of it.

The International Crisis Group said on May 19 that the Houthis have no interest in ending their siege on Taiz as it allows them to choke the city economically and keep their rivals holed up.

“The Houthis have had little incentive to improve road access to the city: They control the governorate’s economic heart and are keeping their main local rivals boxed in,” the organization said.



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