Truces of various forms have come and gone in Yemen before. They have rarely lasted or been respected by the parties to the conflict, and sometimes have ended before even having begun. However, when a two-month truce came into effect at 7 p.m. local time on April 2, announced by the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, there was a sense that this time might be different; that there was a willingness from all sides to stop the fighting, albeit temporarily.
In one sense, that may be true. The first week of April was the first time since the Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily in Yemen in March 2015 that a week went by without airstrikes. The same followed the next week, and the one after that. While the Houthis have accused the Saudis of violating the truce by carrying out cross-border shelling, drone and helicopter attacks, these incidents, which have not been independently verified, would have been relatively minor, resulting in few casualties. It appears as though the Saudi air force is adhering to the truce.
The same cannot be said of the parties to the conflict on the ground, most notably the Houthi forces. Both the Houthis and Yemeni government forces have accused each other of hundreds of violations in areas across Yemen, including shelling, drone attacks and attacks on civilians. While some of the reports are most likely the result of an eagerness to demonstrate that the other side is violating the truce, or are limited individual actions, events in Marib appear to indicate that the Houthis are trying to take advantage of the lack of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes to obtain battlefield advantages, setting themselves up for any major resumption in fighting once the truce ends, or should it fail.
The primary Marib frontline that saw action in April was in the eastern Jabal Al-Balaq mountains, on the southern outskirts of Marib city, where fighting has been ongoing since last year. There were several reported violations in the area, where government positions mark the last major defensive barrier for the Houthis outside Marib city. On April 4 and April 11, clashes killed several combatants on both sides, according to local media reports. Frontlines in Serwah district, west of Marib city, and Al-Jubah, south of Marib city, also saw fighting, and the Houthis reportedly hit Marib city with missiles on April 9 and 13.
None of this led to any changes in the frontlines, but critics of the Houthis have pointed out that the group has in the past taken advantage of truces or reductions in violence to regroup. The presence of new reinforcements in Marib locations such as Al-Tala’a Al-Hamraa, Dhanah and Al-Zour, all west of Marib city, as well as Al-Amoud, south of Marib city, and Al-Alam, in Al-Jawf governorate north of Marib, indicate that this may once again be the case.
Yemeni government forces also accused the Houthis of multiple violations of the truce in Taiz, where residential areas such as the Bir Basha neighborhood of Taiz city were shelled. On April 13, a woman died after being shot by a Houthi sniper in the Usayfarah district of the city, according to local reports. For their part, the Houthis accused the Saudis of cross-border shelling that killed civilians in Sa’ada, as well as the armed drone and helicopter attacks.
One party that has not been involved in the truce in any way is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). On April 12 there were reports of AQAP deployments in various areas of Abyan, including Khawrah, Merkhah Al-Sufla, Al-Mahfaf, Al-Wadea and Mudiyah. The militants were said to have set up checkpoints and seized a pickup truck from the Giants Brigades.
On April 14, ten AQAP prisoners escaped from Sayoun’s central prison in Wadi Hadramawt, marking a major breach in government security. One report claimed the prisoners staged a quarrel to lure guards who were then overpowered. But the large number of reported escapees suggests possible coordination with both guards as well as militants outside. AQAP claimed the operation on April 28, saying that it occurred after months of planning.
On April 28, the Saudi-led coalition announced that it would release 163 Houthi prisoners as part of a humanitarian initiative coordinated with the International Committee of the Red Cross. Coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki characterized the move as part of de-escalation efforts related to the ongoing truce that aimed to “prepare the atmosphere for dialogue between the Yemeni sides and facilitate closing the prisoners and detainees file.” On April 24, the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee, Abdelqader al-Murtada, had said the group made an offer to the UN for each side in the war to release 200 prisoners ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan.
Other developments in brief:
- On April 13, the United States Navy announced that it will launch a task force to patrol the Red Sea with allied countries. The move comes after a number of Houthi attacks on vessels in the waterway along Yemen’s western coast, although the commander of the navy fleet that will be involved in the patrols refused to name the group. The Houthis criticized the move, with chief negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam saying it “enshrined the aggression and blockade on Yemen.”
- A pipeline used to carry gas from Marib to the Balhaf LNG terminal on the Arabian Sea coast was reportedly attacked in Shabwa’s Mayfa’a district on April 24, causing an explosion. The pipeline has not been operational since Yemen’s LNG company shut down the plant after the Saudi-led coalition intervention in 2015.
- “Yemen: Yemeni civilians martyred by Saudi gunfire in Sa’ada [AR],” Al-Mayadeen, April 27, 2022, https://bit.ly/3OCXYTY
- “30 Houthis dead including leaders in Marib [AR],” Al-Ayyam, April 11, 2022, https://bit.ly/3rZlMI6
- “Houthis continue their attacks in Marib and target a camp with ballistic missiles [AR],” Al-Arabiya, April 9, 2022, https://bit.ly/3OJ3moy ; “Houthi missile fired at a residential neighborhood in Marib [AR],” Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni, April 13, 2022, https://almashhadalaraby.com/news/342931
- “Fighting rages in Marib despite UN truce,” Al Jazeera, April 18, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/18/fighting-rages-in-marib-despite-un-truce
- “Houthi reinforcements surround Marib from three sides [AR],” Al-Muntasaf, April 5, 2022, https://bit.ly/3knAdRW
- “Houthi sniper targets a woman in Usayfarah, Taiz [AR],” Yemen Today, April 13, 2022, https://yementdy.tv/news20781.html
- “Yemen: Martyrs and wounded from Saudi shelling in Razih district in Sa’ada governorate [AR],” Al-Mayadeen, April 9, 2022, https://bit.ly/3MUPvtV
- “Al-Qaeda in Abyan takes a Giants Brigade truck in Al-Khadirah and sets up a checkpoint in Al-Ma’jala in Abyan [AR],” Al-Jarida Post, April 13, 2022, https://www.aljaridapost.com/site/2022/04/13/34-47/
- “Ten Al-Qaeda prisoners escape from jail in eastern Yemen,” The New Arab, April 15, 2022, https://english.alaraby.co.uk/news/ten-al-qaeda-prisoners-escape-jail-eastern-yemen
- Dr. Elisabeth Kendall Twitter post, “ #AlQaeda in #Yemen claims prison break…,” April 29, 2022, https://twitter.com/Dr_E_Kendall/status/1519657741962432515?s=20&t=lZGEV-7YeKvYo8rqJPDmmA
- “Yemen: Saudi Arabia to release 163 Houthi prisoners,” Al Jazeera, April 28, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/4/28/yemen-saudi-arabia-to-release-163-houthi-prisoners
- “Yemen’s Houthis offer to release 200 prisoners ahead of Muslim’s Eid al-Fitr,” Middle East Monitor, April 25, 2022, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20220425-yemens-houthis-offer-to-release-200-prisoners-before-muslims-eid-al-fitr/
- “US Navy says new task force to patrol Red Sea amid Yemen war,” Associated Press, April 13, 2022, https://bit.ly/36XyJL7
- “Yemen’s rebels criticize new, US-led task force in Red Sea,” Associated Press, April 16, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/business-middle-east-yemen-iran-red-sea-96db4ef5f3eb77eca03950832399b08f
- “Unknown gunmen target Safer-Balhaf gas pipeline in Mayfa’ah district in Shabwah governorate [AR],” Al-Masdar Online, April 25, 2022, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/250548