Saudi Arabia says Houthi takeover of Yemen unacceptable

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says the ball is in the Houthis' court over the resumption of peace talks which floundered earlier this month.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A car sits next to a salvage yard hit by a Houthi rocket in an industrial area in eastern Najran city, Saudi Arabia. August 27, 2016.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Wednesday the Iran-backed Houthi rebels would not be allowed to take over Yemen, as he accused Iran of seeking to sow unrest around the region.

The head of a Houthi-backed ruling council pledged readiness on Monday to resume negotiations on ending Yemen's war but reserved the right to resist attacks by a Saudi-backed exiled government seeking to unseat it.

The Houthi movement and allied forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh resumed shelling neighbouring Saudi Arabia after UN-sponsored talks to end 18 months of fighting collapsed this month.

The talks floundered after the Houthis and Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) announced the formation of the ten-member governing council on August 6, ignoring a warning by UN Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed that such a move would violate UN Security Council resolutions on how to solve the conflict.

Speaking to Reuters in Beijing, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir said the ball was in the Houthis' court as to whether peace talks will resume.

"What is certain, not questionable, certain [is that] they will not be allowed to take over Yemen. Period. So the legitimate government will be defended," al Jubeir said.

"The chance they have is to enter the political process, reach an agreement ... for the benefit of all Yemenis including the Houthis," he said.

A picture taken on August 30, 2016, shows smoke billowing from buildings following a reported air strike by the Saudi-led coalition targeting a military college in the Yemeni capital Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies accuse the Houthis of being pawns of Iran and launched a military intervention in March last year to restore former president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. Hadi and his government resigned in January 2015 after Houthis increased their influence in Sanaa, the capital.

The Houthis have held on, having made an alliance with Saleh, who enjoys the support of most of the military.

The Houthis and the GPC hold most of Yemen's northern half, while forces working for the exiled government share control of the rest of the country with tribes.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's 18-month-old civil war, said the United Nations on Tuesday, approaching double the estimates of more than 6,000 cited by officials and aid workers for much of 2016.

Speaking earlier to students at a Beijing university, al Jubeir lambasted Iran.

"We see Iran supporting Houthis in Yemen and trying to take over the government, supply weapons to the Houthis, smuggle explosives to Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia," he said.

"We wish we could be as good neighbours like before the 1979 revolution," al Jubeir said. "It's up to Iran to mend its behaviour."