Russia withdraws diplomats from Yemen

All of Russia’s diplomatic staff has left Yemen due to deadly clashes in the capital of Sanaa, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Tuesday.

Russia evacuated its officials from the embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, pictured April 9, over violence in the capital city. File Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE
Russia evacuated its officials from the embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, pictured April 9, over violence in the capital city. File Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE

Some staff members and the Russian ambassador to Yemen are expected to work temporarily from neighboring Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Zakharova said the Russian government hopes outside parties can influence parties in the Yemen conflict to cease hostilities, which have ramped up in recent weeks, particularly in the capital.

The one-time alliance of Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh broke down last week when the Houthis killed Saleh at his home.

Days earlier, Saleh called on his supporters to take up arms against the Houthis when clashes broke out in the capital city.

Houthi rebels, who represent the country’s Zaidi Shiite Muslim minority, fought against the Saleh government periodically from 2004 until his ouster in 2012. With a common enemy in new President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the Houthis and Saleh’s supporters joined forces and the conflict exploded in 2014 and 2015. The rebels forced Hadi to flee the capital to the port city of Aden in February 2015.

The rebel alliance formed a joint government in November 2016, the National Salvation Government.

A coalition of eight Arab countries — mostly Sunni Muslims — led by Saudi Arabia took up the fight to restore Hadi to power in March 2015. The United States, Britain and France also support the coalition. The Hadi government controls much of eastern Yemen as well as the southern coast, including the second-largest city of Aden, while rebels control the capital and the northwest.

The fighting has led to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where civilians are facing famine and disease. A Saudi blockade on rebel-held ports in Yemen in November meant civilians already lacking food and medicine found supplies even more scarce. Saudi Arabia reopened some ports, but humanitarian organizations said it wasn’t enough.

The Saudi-led coalition closed all airports and seaports earlier in November after a thwarted Houthi ballistic missile attack on Riyadh led to suspicion that Houthis were smuggling arms into Yemen. Saudi media reported Thursday that the country’s air defenses shot down another Houthi-fired missile. Houthi media said the missile hit a Saudi military target.

On Monday, the United Nations again called on all blockades to be lifted for better access to more than 8 million people “on the verge of famine.” Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, also urged protection for aid workers and facilities.

“I am greatly alarmed at reports of hospitals being damaged, populations being impeded from fleeing to safe areas and killings and arbitrary detentions reportedly being carried out in Sanaa,” he said.

By Danielle Haynes