Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdelmalek Saeed said on Friday that missiles that struck a runway at Aden international airport December 30, 2020, were an attempt by the armed Houthi movement to target the airplane carrying members of the new government that had just landed.
The prime minister’s remarks came as part of a Yemen Media Call briefing held by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. The program aims to increase the quality and depth of international media coverage of Yemen and the surrounding region.
Saeed said that the airplane had landed at an alternative runway, right before missiles fell on runway No. 1, which was the plane’s initial landing spot. Debris collected from the site indicated the missiles were identical to some fired earlier in Marib for which the Houthis had taken responsibility. The Houthis have not claimed responsibility for the airport attack, and figures within the authority have variously blamed Saudi or UAE factions within the new government.
The attack was unexpected, Saeed added, given that the airport is a civilian facility and media were present to welcome the new government to Aden.
According to Saeed, the attack raised the stakes and pushed the government to call for the designation of the armed Houthi movement as a terrorist organization, adding that the group was responsible for a large number of violations affecting civilians in the past five years. The US State Department announced on January 10 its intent to do so; the move becomes effective January 19.
Saeed said the Yemeni government has set mechanisms in place to ensure aid gets to those in need following fears of greater sanctions brought on by the foreign terrorist organization designation that will affect areas under the control of the Houthis. The prime minister also maintained that the designation will not affect Yemenis, but rather that it aims to sanction the Houthis. Numerous objections have been made by opponents of the designation that it will significantly impact the flow of international aid to areas under Houthi control, where the majority of Yemenis live, and could harm businesses and financial institutions.
Saeed said the government has formed a committee to look into the ramifications for aid delivery and will try to reduce the cost of goods entering the market and facilitate the work of traders.
“The Houthis have caused the collapse of the humanitarian situation, as famine has manifested in the areas under their control, and recently, they have threatened the financial institutions so that the banking and financial sector would [also] implode. This will directly reflect on the humanitarian crisis,” he said.
“We must not yield to the Houthis’ blackmail when it comes to aid, as the group has seized it before and prevented it from being delivered to those who deserve it. Surrendering to the Houthis sends a negative message and it encourages them to use Yemenis as hostages,” he added.
Saeed also addressed the issue of control over the port of Hudaydah, along Yemen’s Red Sea coast, which now rests with the Houthis. His government, he said, had shown great flexibility to open the port of Hudaydah, an early flashpoint of the war having accepted the 2018 Stockholm Agreement and suspending military operations. Doing so, he said, was a “failed decision” in retrospect, given the Houthi refusal to redeploy its forces and direct port revenues into a special account set up at the Central Bank of Yemen to pay employee salaries.
The prime minister also emphasized that the path to peace in Yemen lies in the acceptance of its political institutions and requires the Houthis to accept the principle of equal citizenship and abandon extremist and racist ways of thinking.
He added that Houthi political leaders’ talk to the international community about peace is matched by “terrorist” acts on the ground.
UN-sponsored negotiations helped create a sense of calm, but battles soon flared up again, he said, adding that any peace reached in Yemen must be according to a plan that includes reconciliation, transitional justice and disarmament.
The formation of the new government is a step toward peace, the prime minister said, pointing out that it is responsible for putting an end to the Houthis’ control, reviving state institutions, improving the economic and humanitarian situations, restoring normalcy and rebuilding what the war has destroyed.
Commenting on the Riyadh Agreement, Saeed said implementation of the security and military sections of the agreement is progressing well, and that there is common ground with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) on issues of security, military and the provision of services as well as on reactivating state institutions. The STC is a part of the government, he noted, and work now focuses on avoiding conflict and not using state institutions as spheres of influence. On STC demands for southern secession, Saeed said only that these have a different political path, without further addressing how the council’s demands could be reconciled within the government.
Saeed concluded that up until now, no support has been provided to the government by regional players or the international community, and he called on them to help Yemen with its economy, aid delivery, regular salary payments and in reforming the resources sector.