Houthis Hold Mass Rallies in Sanaa Backing Gaza as Red Sea Attacks Raise Tensions
The Iran-backed Houthi rebels held mass demonstrations in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Friday, with hundreds of thousands gathering to voice solidarity with Palestinians and condemn Israeli actions in Gaza.
Chanting slogans vowing to “turn the Red Sea into a graveyard for the Americans”, Houthi supporters filled streets and squares across the city in a show of force and defiance against recent international pressure. The rallies came as Houthi attacks on shipping lanes in the Red Sea sparked concerns over the fragile truce agreement in Yemen’s civil war.
Mass Turnout at Houthi Rallies
Houthi officials claimed over a million people attended the Sanaa protests, though exact numbers could not be verified. Images showed packed crowds filling the Thawra Square and nearby roads, many carrying Palestinian flags, banners and posters.
Speakers from the Houthi political council denounced Israeli military strikes on Gaza and voiced unwavering support for Palestinians against “Zionist aggression”. Chants of “death to Israel” and “death to America” rang through the rallies alongside vows to continue fighting until Palestinian liberation.
The shows of public support aim to reinforce the Houthis’ credentials as champions of the Palestinian cause in Yemen and the wider Muslim world. Analysts however view the rhetoric as partly propaganda to drum up support for their own war efforts against the Saudi-led coalition.
Red Sea Attacks Raise Tensions
As Houthis expressed solidarity with Gaza, operations against international shipping threatened to overturn progress towards ending Yemen’s eight-year conflict.
On Monday, an unmanned explosive-laden boat struck an oil tanker off the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. The attack came after Houthi threats to blockade the Red Sea to secure the lifting of restrictions on Hodeidah port.
The United Nations warned such actions “risk destabilising the fragile ceasefire” under the 2018 Stockholm Agreement which established a truce around Hodeidah.
Saudi Arabia and its allies accused the Houthis of targeting civilian vessels and global energy supplies. But Houthi officials defended the attacks as legitimate resistance against “foreign aggression” and said they would continue as long as restrictions remain on vital imports to Hodeidah.
International Pressure Builds as Attacks Endanger Truce
With Houthi attacks and rhetoric inflaming tensions, the United States and allies are struggling to preserve Yemen’s fragile peace process amid criticism for not doing enough.
Concerns Over Faltering Peace Efforts
Diplomats hoped to build on the extension of the nationwide truce in October to move towards a political settlement. But six months on, talks have stalled while violence has resumed in key areas like Marib.
Continued Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and on Saudi targets now threaten to unravel progress. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the actions “undermine efforts to impose calm” and achieve peace.
Analysts argue the Biden administration has not dedicated adequate resources or leverage on warring parties to reach a compromise. With little progress since the truce extension, there are concerns time is running out to end the brutal conflict described as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
Calls For Decisive International Action
Lawmakers in the US and Europe urged Joe Biden and allies to take tougher action rein in Houthi attacks and bring them back to negotiations.
Saudi officials called for firm measures against the Houthis from the UN Security Council. But previous efforts for a binding resolution or sanctions have been hindered by Russian and Chinese opposition.
Critics argue the US should halt weapons sales and military support to Saudi Arabia which enables damaging coalition airstrikes. But withdrawing assistance would reduce leverage over Riyadh’s own conduct in the war.
With international pressure rising, analysts say the coming weeks could prove decisive in securing an enduring Yemeni peace deal or seeing the country slide into renewed large-scale violence.
Outlook: Achieving Compromise Key to Avoiding Return to War
While the Houthis continue their defiance, experts warn Yemen’s future likely depends on balancing international condemnation over attacks with incentives for the Houthis to make concessions.
|Chance of Renewed Violence
|Chance of Peace Deal
|High if no progress on talks
|Depends on compromise from Houthis
|Risks from Red Sea operations
|Incentives can bring them to table
|Attacks prompt coalition retaliation
|International pressure key ingredient
Ultimately the Houthis seek an end to the coalition blockade and freedom to import vitally needed goods through Hodeidah port unhindered. Addressing these concerns in return for an end to attacks on shipping and Saudi territory may enable real progress. Without a compromise, another collapse into full-scale civil war looks increasingly likely.
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