Saudi Arabia’s conflict with the Houthis once again intensifies: Can Qatar mediate the conflict, after restoring ties with the Saudi backed Yemeni government?
Saudi-Houthi conflict intensifies
The Arab coalition on Friday intercepted and destroyed six Houthi drones targeting the southwestern Saudi city of Khamis Mushayt.
Spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said the Iranian-backed militia’s attempts to attack civilians in a deliberate and systematic manner constituted war crimes.
A child and a civilian were injured as a result of flying shrapnel, according to the General Directorate of Civil Defense in Asir. No casualties were reported.
He added that the coalition had put in place measures to protect civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.
The UAE condemned the latest Houthi attempt to strike Khamis Mushayt, with its Foreign Ministry describing recent air attacks as a dangerous escalation of the militia group’s efforts to undermine security and stability in the region.
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak said the situation hindered the peace process and blamed Iran for the ongoing crisis in the country.
“The Iranian interventions have become a formidable obstruction to peace as Iran has turned the Yemeni conflict into a negotiating card that the Iranian regime capitalizes on to serve its nuclear negotiations,” he added.
The continued escalations of the Houthi militia in Marib province coincided with the escalation of its extremist attacks on civilians in Saudi Arabia, Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said on Sunday.
The Minister added that the Iranian-backed militia is used as a tool to destabilize the security and stability of Yemen and the countries of the region, state news agency SPA reported.
Al-Eryani also said that the attacks confirm the Iranian regime’s continued intent to undermine efforts to end the war and bring peace to the country.
In response, a Saudi-led military coalition launched air strikes against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen on Sunday, saying it had intercepted a series of missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The strikes triggered huge explosions in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and sent plumes of smoke rising in the sky, the AFP news agency reported.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia restore ties
In January this year, Saudi Arabia reopened its airspace and land and sea borders with Qatar, in a breakthrough agreement aimed at ending the three-year diplomatic dispute with Doha.
Saudi Arabia and its three Arab allies agreed to restore full ties with Doha at a summit in the Kingdom, the Saudi foreign minister said.
Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told a news conference after the gathering of Gulf Arab states, also attended by Egypt, that there was political will and good faith to guarantee implementation of the agreement to restore diplomatic and other ties, including resumption of flights.
Saudi Arabia led a coalition of countries in the Gulf and beyond that cut ties and transport links with Qatar in June 2017, charging that it was too close to Iran and backed radical groups allegations Doha has always denied.
“What happened today is… the turning of the page on all points of difference and a full return of diplomatic relations,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a press conference at the conclusion of a landmark regional summit in Saudi Arabia.
Leaders of the six-member GCC signed two documents on Tuesday, the Al Ula Declaration, named after the Saudi city where this year’s regional summit was held, and a final communique. Three GCC members, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain took part in the three and a half year blockade, alongside Egypt. Qatar is also a GCC member state, along with Kuwait and Oman, which remained neutral in the rift.
The documents are general in terms, but Crown Prince Mohammed said earlier that the Gulf states had inked an agreement that affirms “our Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability”.
Under the agreement, Saudi Arabia pledged to open its airspace to Qatari planes on the condition Qatar Airways drops a $5 billion lawsuit against the four nations seeking damages for the blockade.
Since then both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have opened their land and air borders to Qatar, and re-established diplomatic ties.
In the latest sign of strengthening ties, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud held talks on Monday with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Doha about improving relations between the two countries, the Qatar state news agency QNA reported.
QNA said the prince delivered a verbal message from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on enhancing bilateral ties as well as on regional and international developments.
Can Qatar mediate the conflict?
In addition to the latest reparation in ties, Yemen’s Saudi-backed, internationally recognized government on Sunday restored diplomatic ties with Qatar, the foreign ministry announced.
Both sides agreed to resume bilateral relations and coordinate positions regarding political regional and international developments.
They also said they would unify diplomatic positions on Yemen, and work to achieve peace and stability in the region.
The announcement came following talks in Doha, between Yemen’s foreign minister, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman.
Bin Mubarak delivered a message from Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, thanking Doha for its humanitarian and development support for Yemen.
This has opened the door to possible Qatari mediation in Yemen, which could be facilitated by Qatar’s positive ties with Iran, who are the Houthis rebels’ backers.
Sources revealed that Doha has been deploying intensive diplomatic contacts since the inauguration of US President Joe Biden, presenting itself as a “neutral mediator” entrusted by Washington with the role of a backchannel in the Yemen crisis.
They indicate that the sense of urgency projected by the new administration and the new US envoy’s statements make it clear that preparations for Qatar to play such a role had already been made and were not the result of recent efforts by the Biden administration after entering office.
Qatar could be the most suitable mediator for the Yemen conflict due to the current geopolitical situation where the nation finds itself with positive ties with both sides in the conflict. Such mediation, in cooperation with the UN and US efforts, could provide a path to peace in Yemen.