UN-organized peace talks between the competing Sunni and Shiite sides of the growing Yemeni civil war ended explosively after a journalist threw a shoe at a Houthi leader, prompting a melee between multiple parties at the resulting press conference. United Nations mediators nonetheless stated they were optimistic the two sides would resolve to end violence.
Representatives of the Shiite Houthi movement organized a press conference to update journalists on the developing talks. Mid-press conference, a journalist threw her shoe at Houthi delegation leader Hamza al-Houthi, who caught it and threw it back at her. The shoe-throwing incident followed a number of opponents of the Houthi movement interrupting the conference shouting that the Houthis were “criminals” and “dogs.” Pro- and anti-Houthi journalists then engaged physically, the resulting imbroglio an exclamation point on the wide gap between the interests of both sides of the war.
Reports from within the talks say the opposing sides were so uncomfortable with speaking that they sat on opposite sides of the room in which they were conducting the talks, forcing mediator Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania to “shuttle” from one side of the room to the other whenever one side wished to express something to the other.
“I won’t beat around the bush. There was no kind of agreement reached,” Ahmed stated after the talks, held in Geneva, ended. “Until this time we have not achieved anything. Unfortunately, still the Houthis have not complied with anything,” Foreign Minister Riad Yassin told Al Jazeera. He also alleged the Houthis were refusing to leave their hotels in Geneva, implying they were uninterested in returning to Yemen (Yassin himself would be returning to Saudi Arabia, as the Houthis have forced the Yemeni government out of the capital, Sanaa).
Despite the lack of progress, Ahmed later stated that he was optimistic the two sides could reach an agreement. “There is a certain willingness from all the parties to discuss issues around the ceasefire accompanied by a withdrawal as part of the implementation of the resolution,” he said at a later press conference. “There is no agreement, let’s be clear about that, I will not beat around the bush,” he noted, but he added that “positive signs” were visible on either side.
In addition to orchestrating the talks, which have resulted in no agreement, the United Nations is calling for a $1.6 billion humanitarian donation to help protect Yemen’s civilians, whio have been trapped in the throes of a civil war between Houthis and the Yemeni government that has allowed groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to stake their claims on Yemeni territory.
Saudi Arabia, which supports the Yemeni government, launched an anti-Houthi aircraft campaign earlier this year, which continued on Thursday with numerous airstrikes on Houthi targets. Houthis claim that nine civilians were killed in the airstrikes overnight.
In addition, the Islamic State has taken the opportunity amid the chaos to establish a foothold in the nation, and has taken credit for four bombings in the capital, Sanaa, on Wednesday. At least 50 people are confirmed killed or injured in the bombings. The Houthis have control of Sanaa, while the Yemeni government has been forced to flee to southern Aden and Saudi Arabia. The Islamic State has not taken sides in the altercation, though as a Sunni group they have been choosing Shiite and Houthi targets.