Yemen Conflict Intensifies Despite Covid-19 Fears

Barely four days after all sides in the Yemeni conflict welcomed the call for a ceasefire in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the war seems to be escalating yet again and threatening to undo whatever little progress had been made.

Hostilities Flare Up Once Again

The tit-for-tat re-escalation started again on Saturday night when Houthis fired a number of rockets and drones towards Saudi Arabia, causing minor injuries to two Saudi citizens.

“Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted 2 ballistic missiles launched by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia towards #Riyadh and #Jazan,” the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted on Sunday morning.

Reuters reported later the same day that a military spokesman for Houthis took responsibility for launching rockets and drones at “sensitive” sites in Riyadh and at economic and military sites in Jazan and Asir, near the Yemeni border.

First Major Houthi Attack in Almost One Year

This was the first major Houthi offensive against the Kingdom after the rocket attack at the oil field last September, post which things calmed down a little, giving a temporary relief to the war-torn country.

“I am gravely dismayed and disappointed by these actions at a time when the Yemeni public’s demands for peace are unanimous and louder than ever before. Yemen needs its leaders to focus every minute of their time on averting and mitigating the potentially disastrous consequences of a Covid-19 outbreak,” said UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths.

Saudi Arabia Hits Back

Much to Griffiths’ dismay, the fight was taken one further notch upwards on Monday with the Saudis retaliating through air strikes on Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, including sites in the presidential palace compound and a military school. As per Reuters, the coalition struck “legitimate military targets including Houthi ballistic batteries which threaten civilian lives.”

After the outbreak of the contagious coronavirus — which doesn’t discriminate along national, sectarian or ideological lines — United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a March 25 statement urged “those fighting in Yemen to immediately cease hostilities, focus on reaching a negotiated political settlement and do everything possible to counter a potential outbreak of Covid‑19.”

What if Yemen Gets Coronavirus?

So far, Yemen has not reported any cases of the coronavirus but that is likely because no tests have been done. Its outbreak could wreak further havoc for the country already facing one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

As for the uptick in fighting, the head of the Houthi-government’s national negotiation delegation Mohammed Abdulsalam iterated that there was no option left for the military but to respond to continued Saudi aggression and thus “defend the dignity of the nation”.

This is part of a brewing conflict that resumed in the end of January, with hundreds getting killed across a series of attacks including on Yemeni defense minister in which he narrowly escaped death. Just in March alone, the fighting has seen major escalation resulting in the Houthis taking control of Al Jawf, which lies in the country’s north just next to the Saudi border.

Now the next frontier is Marib, the oil-rich province which remains the last stronghold of the Saudi-led coalition government. The Houthis had already started advancing towards the region by Mar 11 and an all-out war for its control will probably shape the future of the country and any prospect of peace.