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In Their Own Words, Yemen War Rivals See Wary Hope in China-Iran-Saudi Deal

Eight years after Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented intervention in Yemen, officials loyal to each of the three major facts of the country’s ongoing civil war have told Newsweek that they welcome the China-brokered deal to re-establish relations between the neighboring kingdom and its top rival Iran.

And while all three major facts expressed hope this development could help bring about an end to the ongoing conflict, they remained deeply suspicious toward potential hostile interests at play among their foes.

The agreement, announced two weeks ago in a joint statement released by Beijing, Riyadh and Tehran, marked a detente in one of the Middle East’s most bitter rivalries, a years-long rift that has seen Iran and Saudi Arabia back opposing forces across the region , including in Yemen. Now, wary optimism has emerged that peace may also come to the largely defeated nation that remains divided since widespread unrest devolved into all-out conflict in 2014.

“We welcome any agreements in the region that would prove a loss of opportunity for the perpetrators of crises, and I mean the Israeli enemy entity as well as the American regime,” Nasreddin Amer, deputy information secretary of the Ansar Allah movement, told Newsweek.

“We believe in the necessity of fully resolving the differences in our region,” he added, “because it is not in the interest of the peoples of the region, but rather in the interest of their enemies.”

Ansar Allah, widely referred to as the Houthis after slain political and religious leader Hussein al-Houthi, is an Iran-aligned Zaidi Shiite Muslim group that seized the capital city of Sanaa in late 2014. amid unrest that followed the ousting of longtime Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh two years earlier as part of the regionwide Arab Spring protest movement. On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia mobilized a coalition of Arab states to launch a joint campaign backed by the United States in support of the embattled Yemeni government, then headed by former Saleh deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

But last year, Hadi also resigned, leaving the Presidential Leadership Council led by Chairman Rashad al-Alimi in charge of the internationally recognized Yemeni government now based in the southern port city of Aden. Also headquartered in Aden is a third fact: the United Arab Emirates-backed Southern Transitional Council, which seeks an independent south Yemen and is led by Major General Aidarus al-Zoubaidi.

The conflict has long been the subject of peace efforts involving major powers and the United Nations, but the rift between Riyadh and Tehran has largely overshadowed such initiatives. Beijing’s contribution proved decisive, however, a role well-received on the ground.

“We also welcome any Chinese role or from any country in the world in order to end the aggression and lift the siege on Yemen,” Amer said. “We also welcome any role for any country in the world, provided that it is not involved in the aggression against our country.”

“The government in Sanaa is seeking peace and working for it,” he added, “but it will not give up any inch of Yemen’s land or any of the rights of the Yemeni people.”

Also speaking on behalf of Ansar Allah, whose largely northern territory includes up to 80 percent of Yemen’s population, is Mohammed Abdul Salam, the group’s official spokesperson and chief negotiator.

“We believe that easing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a good step to end the regional crises, and such an agreement will help in stabilizing the region in any case,” Abdul Salam said Newsweek.

At the same time, he said Ansar Allah was still awaiting tangible results on the ground in a country where overlapping security, economic and health woes have led the United Nations to refer to the situation in Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“As for its reflection on the Yemeni file, this depends on the implementation of the requirements of the Yemeni people, foremost of which is the humanitarian file (ending the blockade, disbursing salaries and opening the ports),” Abdul Salam said.

The Saudi-led blockade largely cut Yemen off from the world by land, air and sea and continues today, although some restrictions have been eased as a result of international criticism.

And while Abdul Salam welcomed the Iran-Saudi deal, he said that it “will not contribute positively as long as the blockade remains and the aggression continues.” These are the “Yemeni requirements” to end the conflict, he argued, and peace cannot come if they are “not achieved positively and realistically on the ground in Yemen.”

The internationally recognized Yemeni government also held out cautious hope for the Iran-Saudi deal. But the Presidential Leadership Council and its top diplomat remain suspicious of top foe Ansar Allah and the intentions of its backer, Iran, which are both blamed for beginning the conflict in the first place.

“We, the government of Yemen, have been calling for and working towards peace since the first day the Houthi terrorist militias ignited their war against the Yemeni people,” Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak told Newsweek. “Therefore, we welcome any steps or agreements that contribute to achieving stability, security, and peace in Yemen.”

“While we have doubts about the Iranian regime’s sincerity regarding this agreement, we hope that they will take the necessary steps to help bring an end to the Houthi war,” he added.

The top Yemeni diplomat argued that Ansar Allah observed “the Iranian regime’s approach by failing to implement commitments or agreements” and, as such, “we remain cautious about the Houthis’ intentions, and we know that they will manipulate any opportunities or promises to pursue their own interests.”

The government has been joined by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the US and others in accusing Iran of directly supplying Ansar Allah with weapons, including ballistic missiles and drones used to strike neighboring Saudi Arabia. The group and Tehran both deny the allegations.

Eight years after Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented intervention in Yemen, officials loyal to each of the three major facts of the country’s ongoing civil war have told Newsweek that they welcome the China-brokered deal to re-establish relations between the neighboring kingdom and its top rival Iran.

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