On August 2, the parties to the conflict agreed to a two-month truce extension under the existing terms. The deal comes after intensive shuttle diplomacy by the UN and the US, and the arrival of an Omani delegation to Sana’a on July 31. The extension includes a commitment by the parties to work toward an expanded, six-month truce, which UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg failed to secure amid mutual suspicion and disagreements over the phased reopening of four roads (two in Al-Dhalea, one in Sa’ada, and the Sofitel road in Taiz city), payment of public sector salaries in Houthi-held areas, and the expansion of flights from Sana’a airport to include India, Cairo, Amman, and Doha. Grundberg also proposed the creation of a new committee for dialogue and reconciliation. While the internationally recognized government largely accepted the terms of the six-month UN proposal, Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) head Rashad al-Alimi refused to meet with Grundberg on July 25, signaling a refusal to make further concessions. Houthi authorities rejected the terms outright.
PLC Announces Cabinet Reshuffle
Al-Alimi announced a cabinet reshuffle on July 28 encompassing four ministries: defense, oil, electricity and public works. All four new appointees were southerners acceptable to the Southern Transitional Council (STC), in line with the informal alliance within the PLC between Al-Alimi and STC head Aidarous al-Zubaidi. Although not affiliated with the STC, new defense minister Lieutenant-General Mohsen al-Daeri is from Al-Zubaidi’s hometown of Al-Dhalea city and is seen as a neutral figure who enjoys good relations with Saudi Arabia. The new oil minister, Saeed al-Shamasi, is a Hadrami technocrat who has served in government, most recently as deputy oil minister. New electricity minister Manea Benyamin is a technocrat affiliated with the STC, who previously served as minister of public works, while the appointment of Salem al-Aboudi from Al-Mahra as new public works minister ensures continued Mahri representation in government – the previous electricity minister hailed from the governorate. Contrary to expectation, Al-Alimi kept in place Interior Minister Ibrahim Haidan, a native of Abyan governorate who is close to former president and fellow Abyani Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi. This was primarily down to worries that removing two influential Abyanis in short succession could stir resentment in the governorate and disturb the delicate balance of power in the south.
New Governors Appointed in Hadramawt, Socotra
On July 31, Al-Alimi appointed new governors of Hadramawt and Socotra. The head of the STC in Socotra, Rafat Ali Ibrahim Al-Thaqali, was selected for the top post on the island, reinforcing the group’s hold after driving out former Governor Ramzi Mahrous in an armed rebellion in June 2020. In Hadramawt, General People’s Congress (GPC) parliamentarian Mabkhout bin Madhi replaced Faraj al-Bahsani, a member of the PLC and head of the Second Military Region. While Al-Bahsani will retain the latter posts, which include command of the Hadrami Elite forces, the loss of the governor’s seat greatly diminishes his access to the governorate’s financial resources and thus reduces his ability to maintain the loyalty of the armed forces. Al-Bahsani, who developed a reputation as a particularly corrupt official, was notified of the shakeup during a recent visit to Riyadh. After initially rejecting the decision, according to media reports from Aden, the government-run Saba news agency reported that Al-Bahsani had returned to Hadramawt’s capital Mukalla and called on residents to rally around the new governor. On August 7, during his first press conference as governor, Bin Madhi said that his administration’s attention would be focused primarily on improving the provision of services, and noted that he would turn a new page on government relations with the local media.
A week before he was dismissed, Al-Bahsani had announced changes to several key positions in the governorate, in what appeared to be an effort to further centralize control from his base of power in Mukalla. Among the officials suspended for unspecified “administrative violations” were Abdelrahman Belfas al-Kathiri, director of the Yemen Oil and Gas Cooperation’s branch in the Wadi Hadramawt and Desert region, and Esam bin Habrish al-Kathiri, deputy governor for Wadi Hadramawt and Desert Affairs. There has been tension between Al-Bahsani and Esam Al-Kathiri for some time, related to the latter’s affiliation with the Islah party and former Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, and his control of oil-rich Wadi Hadramawt as a semi-autonomous zone within the governorate.
Tareq Saleh Meets Islah-Affiliated Military Commanders, Opens Political Office in Taiz City
On July 9, PLC member and UAE-backed military commander Tareq Saleh met with top military officials in Taiz governorate, including the commander of the Taiz Military Axis, Major General Khaled Fadhel, and military advisor Brigadier General Abdo Farhan al-Mikhlafi, also known as “Salem.” Held in Taiz’s southeastern Al-Turbah district near the border of Lahj governorate, the meeting was also attended by Taiz governor Nabil Shamsan, who is a member of the GPC party but is supportive of Islah. The gathering has been seen as a confidence-building step between the adversarial military camps, which control different parts of Taiz, but both of which oppose the Houthi movement. Saleh is commander of the National Resistance forces based along the governorate’s Red Sea coast around the port of Al-Mokha, while the Islah-affiliated Taiz Military Axis controls Taiz city and much of the countryside in the south-central part of the governorate.
Less than two weeks after the meeting, Saleh opened an office of the National Resistance Forces’ Political Bureau in Taiz city on July 21. The inauguration was attended by Taiz’s deputy governor and Islah member Abdelqawi al-Mikhlafi, as well as local representatives of other political parties in Taiz, including the Nasserist and Socialist parties. Saleh and the governor, Shamsan, were pictured attending Eid al-Adha prayers together in Taiz.
In May 2021, Saleh and Shamsan held their first direct meeting. Five months later, in October, a top leader in the Islah party in Taiz, Dhia al-Haq al-Ahdal, was assassinated after signaling support for an alliance between National Resistance forces and the Taiz Military Axis to fight Houthi forces. The STC has watched warily as the two northern factions mend ties, viewing a potential alliance as a threat to its base of power in the south, but necessary to advance against the Houthis. Although the secessionist STC has stated its willingness to partner with the National Resistance forces against the Houthis, it has resisted political inroads by Saleh’s pro-unity loyalists into the southern governorates of Shabwa and Aden.
PLC Chief Shakes Up Judiciary
On August 4, Al-Alimi announced a number of judicial appointments as part of broader governance reforms being spearheaded by the PLC. Issued in two decrees (available here and here), the appointments included leadership roles in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and the Judicial Inspection Board (JIB).
The Supreme Court, Yemen’s final court of appeal, is composed of a president, two deputies and about 50 judges. The nine-member SJC is the highest judicial authority, whose members include the President of the Supreme Court, the Minister of Justice, the Attorney General and the JIB. Both the SJC and the JIB are designed to serve oversight and governance functions in the judiciary.
The appointments reflect an attempt by Al-Alimi to reassert the authority of the internationally recognized government’s judicial institutions, which have been undermined by the emergence of parallel Houthi institutions and STC pressure during the war. The appointment of southerners to leadership roles in the three judicial bodies addresses some of the demands of the pro-STC Southern Judges Club, which threatened to take over some of the authorities of the SJC in August 2021.
Prominent southerners appointed to leadership positions include Lahj native Judge Mohsen Talib Abu Bakr Al-Houshabi, appointed head of the SJC, Abyan native Ali Atbush Awad, appointed Secretary-General of the SJC, Aden native Sahel Muhammad Hamza Nasser, appointed vice president of the Supreme Court and Judge Nazim Hussein Salem Bawazir, a founding member of the Southern Judges Club, appointed head of the JIB and as a member of the Supreme Judicial Council.
Four of the judges who were replaced were appointed by Al-Alimi to the Shura Council: Hammoud Abdulhamid al-Hatar, head of the Supreme Court; Dr. Ali Nasser Salem, head of the Supreme Judicial Council; and Supreme Court members Ali Awad Nasser and Ahmed Omar Bamatrif.
Developments in Houthi-Controlled Territory
Houthis Shift to Islamic Calendar
On July 4, Houthi media reported that the head of the Supreme Political Council (SPC), Mahdi al-Mashat, had announced the group’s transition from the Gregorian calendar to the Hijri, or Islamic calendar, for all state functions starting July 30, which marked the first day of the Islamic year.
The implementation of such a decree, however, faces significant technical, financial and legal hurdles, among them that all state functions have relied on the Gregorian calendar for decades. It is likely that Houthi authorities will enforce the use of the Hijri calendar side by side with the Gregorian, with schools and some state institutions that don’t deal with the outside world most likely to fully adopt the former.
Houthis Shutter Radio Station After Court Allowed its Reopening
On July 11, Houthi gunmen raided the headquarters of a local radio station, Voice of Yemen Radio, and confiscated its equipment, following a court ruling that authorized the radio station to resume operations six months after Houthi authorities closed its doors. The owner of Voice of Yemen Radio, Majali al-Samadi, said in a series of Facebook posts that the forces who stormed the radio station are affiliated with the Houthi-run Ministry of Information and the Nasr Police Department in Sana’a’s Haddah neighborhood, just west of the radio station’s office in Al-Safiah neighborhood. Al-Samadi posted a photo of a court ruling issued four days earlier authorizing its return to broadcasting. In late January, Houthi authorities shuttered six community radio stations in Sana’a, including Voice of Yemen, for allegedly broadcasting without licenses and failing to pay fees.
Houthi-imprisoned Actress Moved to Solitary Confinement
On July 23, Houthi authorities reportedly transferred Yemeni actress and model Intisar al-Hammadi to solitary confinement after torturing her in the Central Prison in northern Sana’a, according to media reports citing human rights sources. Al-Hammadi was arrested in February 2021 at a checkpoint in Sana’a for allegedly violating public morality.
Journalist’s Health Deteriorates in Houthi Prison
On July 27, activists launched a hashtag campaign on social media to raise awareness of the deteriorating health of Yemeni journalist Tawfiq al-Mansouri, who was arbitrarily detained by Houthi forces in 2015 and sentenced to death in April 2020. Al-Mansouri is being denied urgent medical care, according to his mother and brother, who are asking Houthi authorities to transfer him to a hospital for immediate treatment.
UN Renews Hudaydah Agreement Mission, Appoints New Deputy Chief
On July 6, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Vivien van de Perre as the new deputy head of the United Nations Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) and deputy head of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC). Van de Perre, a Dutch national, succeeds Daniela Kroslak of Germany. UNMHA was established shortly after the December 2018 signing of the Stockholm Agreement between the internationally recognized government and Houthi authorities, with the aim of overseeing a cease-fire in Hudaydah, the withdrawal of all forces from the city and the nearby ports of Hudaydah, Saleef and Ras Issa, and handover of the ports to local forces. The mission’s current leader, Irish Major General Micheal Beary, has accomplished little in the seven months since his appointment due to Houthi-imposed access restrictions, which also plagued his three predecessors. UNMHA’s work at present is limited to coordinating the removal of Houthi-laid mines from the vicinity of the ports. The internationally recognized government’s team suspended its participation in the cease-fire monitoring operations in early 2020 after one of its observers was killed by a Houthi sniper. On July 13, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the UNMHA for one year.
Hamas Leader Sends Eid al-Adha Greetings to Houthi Counterpart
On July 8, the Houthi-run Al-Masirah news outlet reported that the head of the group’s SPC, Mahdi al-Mashat, received a cable of congratulations on Eid al-Adha from the head of the political bureau of the militant Palestinian organization Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh. The message, which was not reported by Hamas-affiliated media outlets, marks the Iran-backed Palestinian movement’s latest show of support for the Houthi movement, which also receives support from Iran. In June 2021, Hamas’ representative in Sana’a, Moaz Abu Shamala, gave senior Houthi leader Mohammad Ali al-Houthi a gift of appreciation for raising funds in support of Hamas during Israel’s May military campaign against Gaza, which Hamas has ruled since 2007.
US and Saudi Arabia Issue Iran-Focused Communique
On July 15, US President Joe Biden participated in the GCC+3 (Jordan, Iraq and Egypt) summit in Jeddah, marking his first trip to the Middle East since taking office. Among Biden’s perceived priorities during the visit were persuading Saudi Arabia to help lower US gasoline prices amid fallout from the Russian war in Ukraine and reassuring Middle Eastern heads of state of American security guarantees. Biden met face-to-face with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for the first time, after pledging that he would not do so due to the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018. Press coverage of the latter issue largely overshadowed other topics on the summit’s agenda, including the situation in Yemen, which is routinely relegated to secondary importance and discussed only with respect to the security implications for its neighbors.
The day after the summit, the US and Saudi Arabia issued a communique highlighting outcomes related to Yemen, including the importance of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and the need to further deter Iran’s “interference in the internal affairs of other countries, its support for terrorism through its armed proxies, and its efforts to destabilize the security and stability of the region,” alluding to the Houthis, among other Iran-backed groups. The US-Saudi statement also noted the importance of maintaining the flow of trade through strategic international sea lanes, including the Bab al-Mandab Strait off Yemen’s southwest coast. To that end, Riyadh and Washington noted the recent establishment of Combined Task Force 153, which will focus in part on security in the strait and deterring illegal smuggling into Yemen. The communique also noted that Saudi Arabia would take command of Joint Task Force 150 in the Gulf of Oman, through which numerous Houthi-bound weapons shipments from Iran have been confiscated.
On the sidelines of the Jeddah summit, PLC chief Al-Alimi met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Among other issues, the leaders discussed the importance of extending the UN-led truce and of the need for Houthi authorities to improve access to Taiz.
On August 2, the US State Department approved a US$3.05 billion sale of 300 Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia and another deal worth US$2.25 billion to the UAE for 96 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles and control systems. In a news release announcing the Saudi deal, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency stated that the missiles will be used to defend the kingdom against “persistent Houthi cross-border” drone and ballistic missile attacks on civilian sites and critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.