As Yemenis mark Saturday as one year since the Saudi Arabia-led operation in Yemen was launched, observers see no end in the near future to the bloody conflict that has inflicted human and structural damage on the country, has given rise to extremism, and, according to the United Nations, has resulted in war crimes.
Last year on March 26, Saudi Arabia along with 10 of its regional allies, and with the blessing of the United States, kicked off a major, indefinite operation in Yemen in a bid to restore Saudi-allied former President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted by the Ansarullah rebels, also known as Houthis.
More than 7,000 people have been killed since the coalition campaign began a year ago, half of them believed to be civilians according to aid organizations. Saudi Arabia and its allies claim Iran is backing the rebels militarily and financially, which Tehran and the Houthis deny.
For months, international organizations including Oxfam, the United Nations, and Doctors Without Borders have documented the international violations, the humanitarian crisis, and atrocities committed by the Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen.
On Wednesday, Oxfam said half of Yemen’s residents, or nearly 14.4 million people, have no access to food or humanitarian assistance due to the conflict, adding that such crisis would only worsen amid expected price increases for food and supplies.
“An invisible food crisis … risks turning famine warnings into a reality over the coming months,” the organization said.
Just last week, the U.N. said the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen may be responsible for “international crimes,” a category that includes war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“We are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the coalition,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said last Friday.
His comments came after Saudi airstrikes in Mustaba in northwest Yemen hit an outdoor market and killed more than 100 people, making it one of the deadliest attacks since the beginning of the Saudi-led campaign.
In January, the Guardian got hold of an unpublished U.N. report which warned of “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilians by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The damning report added that Saudi Arabia and its allies have been treating entire cities as “military targets.”
The report highlighted some of the main atrocities the coalition committed since the start of the operation.
Saudi-led airstrikes, the report said, targeted “camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.”
Medical facilities belonging to Doctors Without Borders organization were targetted at least two times by Saudi airstrikes; one took place last year in October and the second one happened in January.
It is unlikely that the coalition was unaware of the facilities because the organization does provide the coordinates for its hospitals and facilities in war zones, a policy for avoiding being hit or targeted.
In addition to the human cost of the war in Yemen, the Saudi operation has created a security gap in one of the poorest countries on earth, further allowing al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s strongest franchise in the world, to gain more ground and influence.
Also, since the beginning of the conflict, the Islamic State group has gained a foothold in Yemen and has been carrying out attacks against Shiite communities and mosques.
In fact, on Friday at least 22 people were killed by three suicide bombings at checkpoints in the southern Yemeni city of Aden. The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group.
It is important to highlight that the U.S. and the U.K have kept their steady military support for the Saudi kingdom despite mounting accusations of crimes and abuses by its military campaign in Yemen.
In November 2015, Washington announced a US$1.29 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia that will supply Riyadh with 18,440 bombs and 1,500 warheads.
Also, since March 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron has delivered more than US$4 billion worth of arms and weapons to Saudi Arabia, according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, a London-based NGO.
However, the Saudi-led war in Yemen has been depleting Saudi financial reserves, pushing the Kingdom to reconsider its strategy, which is evident in recent reports of direct talks between Saudis and Houthis in Riyadh.
In December, Saudi Economy Minister Adel Fakeih attributed more than US$5.3 billion in government spending in 2015 to the war on Yemen.
Also sources told Reuters earlier this month that Riyadh was seeking a bank loan of between US$6 billion and US$8 billion, in what would be the first significant foreign borrowing by the kingdom’s government in over a decade.
While its public objective is targeting the Houthis, the Saudi war in Yemen is part of a bigger goal for solidifying dominance in the region against the so-called Iranian threat, while having no regard for civilian lives and the people of Yemen.
“The Houthis and their allies … are the declared targets of the coalition’s 1-year-old air campaign. In reality, however, it is the civilians,” Rawan Shaif, a British-Yemeni freelance journalist wrote in an article for Foreign Policy magazine on March 24.
Saudis said last month that their operation in Yemen is nearing its end. However, an end to the war is unlikely to bring peace and stability to the country as its infrastructure has been left significantly damaged and extremism is rising.