A delegation including leaders of Yemen’s Shi’a Houthi rebels arrived in Geneva Tuesday morning, to join UN-led peace talks, after a daylong delay in Djibouti. Egyptian authorities have rejected responsibility for the delegation’s delay.
Dhaif Al-Shami, a Houthi leader in the delegation, had accused Egypt of blocking the passage of their UN-chartered flight from East African state Djibouti. Due to the day-long delay, the Houthi delegation missed a meeting Monday with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Egypt is part of the anti-Houthi Arab coalition backing Saudi Arabia’s military action in Yemen, supporting exiled President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi’s internationally-recognised government against Iran-backed Shi’a rebels.
However, a spokesperson for Egypt’s Civil Aviation Authority denied the accusations to Daily News Egypt. “We received no request from the delegation in any form. We received no request from Dijbouti for the plane to land, and no request for the plane to fly in our airspace,” the spokesperson said.
“I do not know who the source of these rumours is and why they have been reported by Egyptian journalists, but I am sure it is not true. The president of the civil aviation authority has publicly denied it,” the authority spokesperson continued.
In remarks to Al-Masry Al-Youm, President of the Civil Aviation Authority Mahmoud Al-Zanaty said: “The news about Egypt requesting to check the plane before it passes through Egyptian airspace, based on a decision from the Arab alliance are untrue. We have not been requested by any security authority in Egypt to do so. Thus, if any plane requested passage via the Egyptian airspace, it will be allowed to do so.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the plane left Djibouti Monday evening owing to “aviation issues” beyond the control of the UN. “We’re just glad they’re on their way,” he told the Associated Press.
As news came out of Tuesday’s Geneva talks, reports claimed that Houthi leaders were refusing to talk with members of the exiled government, saying they lacked “legitimacy”.
“We refuse any dialogue with those who have no legitimacy,” rebel member Mohammad Zubairi told press, and said the delegation wanted to talk directly with Saudi Arabia.
Representatives from Yemen’s exiled government, the Houthi fighters, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General Peoples’ Congress are attending the talks.
Ban Ki-moon, who attended the Monday opening session of the talks, called on all sides to implement a new “humanitarian pause” at the start of Ramadan, beginning later this week.
“The region simply cannot sustain another open wound like Syria and Libya,” he said.
According to UNICEF, there are currently 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, equating to 80% of the population. These include 1 million Yemenis internally displaced; 15 million people lacking access to basic healthcare; and 2,288 deaths registered from the conflict so far.
Last Friday, UNESCO’s general director Irina Bokova condemned on Friday the destruction of Al-Owrdhi historical compound, an architectural-cultural site that dates back to the Ottoman era. It is located just outside the walls of the Old City in capital Sana’a. The airstrikes also left six dead.
“I am profoundly distressed by the loss of human lives, as well as by the damage inflicted on one of the world’s oldest jewels of Islamic urban landscape,” Bokova said in an official statement. “This destruction will only exacerbate the humanitarian situation.”