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US keeps wary eye on Yemen conflicts

Despite threats to US interests, America maintains it offers only humanitarian aid — and no military help — to Sanaa.

Videos released on the internet by the Houthi media department show crowds of supporters chanting, “Death to America! Death to Israel!”

The U.S. government, while pushing for a cease-fire, peace talks and safe passage for humanitarian workers in the region, insists it has and will not provided military assistance to Sanaa. The U.S. says it has donated more than $8.6 million dollars to humanitarian aid organizations this year to help people displaced by the conflict.

Late last month, at the urging of the U.S. and international community, Sanaa and the Houthis agreed to a cease-fire on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr to allow time for humanitarian aid to reach civilian victims of the conflict. The cease-fire lasted less only a few hours, according to the Yemeni government.

A U.S. Embassy source in Yemen said Washington held that development and increased autonomy were more likely to end the conflict than continued fighting. “That’s the path to peace in the region, not aerial bombardments,” the source said.

“Clearly, right now, the focus of the Yemeni government is in Saada,” the source said, adding that the U.S. did not have monitors in the area and relied on reporters and NGOs to keep track of events there. 

The Yemeni government, meantime, appears to be gearing up for a long battle with the Houthis.

“Our blood is being shed every day in Harf Sufyan and Saada. We will not draw back, even if the battle continues for five or six years, we will not backtrack or stop,” said Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in a speech late last month, quoted in the National newspaper. While Yemen is focused on fighting the Houthis in the north, and the secessionist movement in the south, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula boasts that the country is becoming a place for the organization to thrive.

“Any insecurity in the country or instability or riot, such as the Southern Movement or a war in Saada helps wake the regime,” an Al Qaeda leader, Ghalib Al-Zaidy, reportedly told the Arabic-language newspaper, Al Ghad late last spring.

Nasser Al-Bahrie, a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, said that if the Yemeni government lost control, Al Qaeda would thrive because of Yemen’s huge stash of personal weaponry, and the fact that most of the population is young, and poor. “If the government fails, the young people will turn into an army against it,” he said.

Most estimates say that there are more than 60 million guns in Yemen — that is almost three for every person. It is also the poorest country in the Arab world, according to the CIA Factbook.

And the current humanitarian crises caused by the war has only added to nation’s fragility.

As many as 30,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since renewed fighting ended a year-long cease-fire in early August. And, since the conflict began in 2004, up to 150,000 people have been displaced in northern Yemen, according to the UNHCR.

At a displaced persons camp in Hajjah, not far from the fighting, as many as 30 families arrive every day. Some make it to the camp after walking for four or five days, according to Andrew Knight, the organization’s external relations officer in Yemen.

“By the time the turn up, they are in a desperate situation,” he said.