UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Yemen is urging a halt to the “alarming military escalation” in fighting between the Saudi-led military coalition and Houthi Shiite rebels, the U.N. spokesman said Tuesday.
Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said envoy Martin Griffiths warned the Security Council at a closed meeting that the recent drastic escalation jeopardizes progress made by the warring parties in de-escalating the conflict and on confidence building.
In the video briefing, Griffiths “reiterated the importance of stopping the ongoing military escalation before it is too late,” Dujarric said.
Diplomats said council members expressed serious concern at the upsurge in fighting and were working on a statement.
Less than two weeks ago, Griffiths had reported to the council on a major reduction in military operations and other initiatives. He expressed hope then that this would lead to talks between the government and Iranian-backed Houthis on ending the five-year conflict in the Arab world’s poorest nation.
The U.S.-backed Arab coalition battling to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government stepped up airstrikes in recent days on rebel targets northeast of the capital, Sanaa, following a months-long lull, while the Houthis shelled government-held areas.
The sudden spike in violence across long-stalemated front lines threatened to exacerbate the conflict and complicate indirect peace talks between Saudi Arabia and the rebels as well as Griffiths’ efforts to get both sides back to the negotiating table.
On a positive note, the representative for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF welcomed the Houthis’ release in Sanaa on Tuesday of 64 children allegedly captured during military operations, Dujarric said. He said UNICEF hopes this step also leads to an end to the Houthis’ recruitment and use of children.
The Yemen conflict began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis, who control much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition allied with the internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The fighting has killed thousands of civilians and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine last year.
On Jan. 16, a senior U.N. humanitarian official warned that Yemen could face the threat of famine again because of the rapid depreciation of its currency and disruptions to salary payments
Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the U.N. humanitarian office’s Coordination Division, said the rial’s loss in value was at least partially due to a dispute over bank notes printed after 2016 that the Houthis banned for use in the north in mid-December.
This led the government to announce that it could not pay civil servants and retirees in the north, which means about a quarter of Yemen’s population who rely on these payments are getting no money, he said.