By Tim Nanns
Saudi-led coalition forces pounded several locations across Yemen with heavy air strikes earlier on Tuesday, despite a truce scheduled to take effect on Tuesday evening.
Further, the amassing of Saudi troops, described as a ‘strike force’, raises doubts over whether the ceasefire will hold.
The build-up of Saudi forces comes after the Houthis stepped up their campaign of artillery attacks on Saudi soil, killing a Saudi national on Monday.
Yemen’s state news agency Saba reported Tuesday that approximately 90 people were killed during an air raid on the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, a claim that is as yet unconfirmed.
A lasting ceasefire would mark the first break in coalition attacks on Yemeni soil after the start of operations on 25 March. The end of ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ on 21 April sparked hopes of an end to hostilities, but the rebranding of the operation to ‘Restoring Hope’ did not end the air strikes.
An end of fighting and the blockade is desperately needed, considering the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, as reported by various international rights watchdogs and the UN. During the weekend, the World Food Programme was the first to deliver fuel supplies to the country, which are needed to run water pumps and keep hospitals working. It is expected that aid deliveries will be stepped up dramatically, should the truce hold.
A UN statement announced that the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was to head to Yemen before the implementation of the truce. He reportedly arrived in Sana’a on Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called upon the Houthi militia and the other conflict parties in Yemen to stop using child soldiers in the Yemen conflict. HRW quoted UNICEF sources claiming that up to one third of the fighters in Yemen are minors. The report states that some of them are under the age of 15, and whose recruitment as such is a war crime under international law.
Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi pledged in November 2012 to a UN representative to “work towards the reintegration of children”, now sparking demands by HRW to honour that statement. The NGO has already accused the Houthi militia of war crimes and called upon them to investigate misdemeanours committed by their troops.