Brussels: Yemen s foreign minister warned that Huthi rebels could thwart a renewed diplomatic push for peace as they scramble to seize a key city before discussing any ceasefire.
In an interview with AFP, Ahmed bin Mubarak said Omani mediators had made progress in efforts to broker a ceasefire, but urged Europe to maintain pressure on the rebels.
And he suggested that the Huthis backer Iran had backed recent bloody attacks, alleging Tehran wants to use Yemen as a bargaining chip to maintain leverage in nuclear talks with world powers in Vienna.
“There is a lot of hope in Yemen, and also challenges,” said the 52-year-old official, who has been foreign minister in President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi s embattled government since December 2020.
Yemen has been left devastated by a civil war between the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-backed Huthi since 2014, and millions of civilians are on the brink of famine.
On Saturday, Omani officials and senior Huthis travelled to the rebel-controlled capital of Sanaa to push for a ceasefire. Oman has ties with both Tehran and western powers and is acting as a mediator.
Hadi s government is backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, which on Thursday announced it had halted attacks on Huthi targets to pave the way to ceasefire talks.
The UN and US envoys to Yemen, Martin Griffiths and Tim Lenderking, along with Iran s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have met the Omanis, and some officials see a diplomatic opening.
But bin Mubarak, who is in Europe lobbying officials to take a strong line on the Huthis and hold them to account, alleged that the rebels had snubbed the diplomatic outreach.
“The Omani are playing a vital role … For that reason, I think they sent their delegation to Sanaa to discuss with the Huthi political leadership,” he told AFP.
“Yet, we didn’t receive any feedback from them. The only feedback that we received was just two brutal attacks that took place, yesterday and the day before.”
According to the government, in the latest attacks, Huthi ballistic missiles and booby-trapped drones hit civilian targets including a gas station and a women s detention centre.
Official sources say more than 20 people have been killed since Saturday, including a child, women and medical personnel.
For bin Mubarak, the attacks were a sign hardline Huthi factions want to keep the conflict going until they seize the northern city of Marib, which would shift Yemen s balance of power decisively.
“I think there are those, the hardliners, who believe that they have the divine right to rule Yemen, those that still have some illusions about military victory,” he said.
“And they are pushing hard into Marib, so they don t want anything happening before, you know, capturing Marib,” he said, referring to the last significant pocket of government territory in the north.
“If something happened in Marib, that will totally and tragically change the political scene and the humanitarian scene,” he said. AFP