Wounded Houthi rebels to be evacuated from Yemen ahead of peace talks in Sweden

The UN is pressing the coalition and Houthi rebels in Yemen to take confidence building measures ahead of planned peace talks. It is still unclear when, or whether, talks will take place in Sweden.

Fifty wounded Houthi rebels will be evacuated on a plane from Yemen's capital on Monday as a confidence building measure ahead of planned peace talks in Sweden, the Saudi-led military coalition said.

Conflicts | 29.11.2018

The UN chartered plane will take the rebels, three Yemeni doctors and a UN doctor from Sanaa to Muscat, Oman, for "humanitarian" reasons ahead of the talks sponsored by UN envoy Martin Griffiths, Saudi state media said.

Read more: Yemen's war explained in 4 key points

International pressure has been mounting to bring an end to the nearly four-year war that has devastated the Arab world's poorest country, killing more than 10,000 people and threatening 14 million people with famine.

The proposed peace talks between the Saudi-backed and internationally recognized government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels are scheduled to begin this week.

However, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said last week that due to "a number of setbacks," he hoped the talks would resume "this year."

The Yemeni government has said it would attend the talks, but the Houthis have said they would only attend if they were ensured a safe return to Yemen.

Long road to peace

In September, planned peace talks failed to start after the Houthi delegation refused to leave Yemen. The delegation said that the UN could not ensure that the Saudi-led military coalition, which controls the country's air and sea space, would allow it to return.

The failure to kick start talks led the military coalition to launch a renewed bid to take the rebel-held city of Hodeida. Much of the country's humanitarian aid enters through the city's Red Sea port.

Read more: UN chief: Destroying Yemen's Hodeida port would be 'catastrophic'

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Yemen: An ever-worsening crisis

War: The 'root cause' of Yemen's disasters

The UN has identified conflict as the "root cause" of Yemen's crises. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2014 when Shiite Houthi rebels launched a campaign to capture the capital, Sanaa. In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched a deadly campaign against the rebels, one that has been widely criticized by human rights groups for its high civilian death toll.

Yemen: An ever-worsening crisis

Fighting keeps food from the famished

The conflict has prevented humanitarian aid from reaching large parts of the civilian population, resulting in 60 percent of the country's 28 million people being classified as "food insecure." At least 2.2 million children are acutely malnourished, according to the UN World Food Program. UN chief Antonio Guterres has urged the Security Council to pressure warring parties to allow aid in.

Yemen: An ever-worsening crisis

Displacement: Converging crises

More than 2 million people have been displaced by conflict, including marginalized communities such as the "Muhammasheen," a minority tribe that originally migrated from Africa. Despite the civil war, many flee conflict in Somalia and head to Yemen, marking the convergence of two major migration crises in the Middle East nation. Yemen hosts more than 255,000 Somali refugees, according to UNHCR.

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Cholera: A deadly epidemic

As of October 2017, the number of suspected cholera cases exceeded more than 750,000, and at least 2,135 people had died from the waterborne bacterial infection in Yemen in ten months, said the WHO. Although cholera can be easily treated, it can kill within hours when untreated. By October 2018, over 10,000 cases of cholera were being treated weekly.

Yemen: An ever-worsening crisis

Unsuspecting victims of the'war on terror'

In Yemen, violence goes beyond civil conflict: It is considered a strategic front in the war on terrorism. The country serves as the operational base for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, dubbed the "most dangerous" terrorist group before the rise of the "Islamic State." The US routinely uses drones to target al-Qaida leadership. However, civilians have often been killed in the operations.

Yemen: An ever-worsening crisis

Children's fate: Future marred by tragedy

In a country paralyzed by conflict, children are one of the most at-risk groups in Yemen. More than 11 million children require humanitarian aid, according to the UN humanitarian coordination agency. The country's education system is "on the brink of collapse," while children are dying of "preventable causes like malnutrition, diarrhea and respiratory tract infections," the agency said in October.

Yemen: An ever-worsening crisis

Peace: An elusive future

Despite several attempts at UN-backed peace talks, the conflict continues to rage on. Saudi Arabia has vowed to continue supporting the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. On the other hand, Houthi rebels have demanded the formation of a unity government in order to move forward on a political solution. But neither side appears ready to compromise.

A previous round of failed peace talks in Kuwait in 2016 ended with the Houthi delegation being stranded in neighboring Oman for three-months.

Devastating quagmire

What started as largely a domestic political conflict in 2014 in the wake of the Arab Spring morphed into a broader regional power struggle between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The 2015 military intervention started by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has since turned into an expensive and diplomatically damaging quagmire that has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

In November, International Crisis Group, a think tank, said the Saudi-led coalition had underestimated the Houthis.

"The Houthis are resourceful, committed, experienced and ruthless, and that the core fighters are likely to fight until the last man if called upon to do so," it said.

cw/amp (AFP, Reuters)

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