, SANAA, April 16- The UN envoy to Yemen has resigned after failing to avert large-scale violence, dealing a blow to hopes of a diplomatic solution to the conflict between rebels and Saudi-backed government forces.
The announcement from the United Nations came as a Saudi led coalition pressed its air war against the Iran-backed rebels into a fourth week, promising “no half measures” in its campaign to restore President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
As UN envoy, Jamal Benomar had tried desperately to avert all out conflict as the Shiite Huthi rebels seized the capital last September and then placed Hadi under effective house arrest in January.
But Hadi’s escape to second city Aden the following month to rally opposition to the rebels effectively brought negotiations to an end and Benomar’s efforts to revive them came to nothing as the rebels advanced on the president’s last refuge, triggering his flight to Saudi Arabia.
Benomar retained the support of UN chief Ban Ki moon, who has repeatedly called for a return to the negotiating table, but he lost the confidence of Riyadh and its allies.
Last month, a Gulf diplomatic official accused the UN envoy of appeasing the rebels and their allies as they overran Saudi Arabia’s impoverished but strategically important neighbour.
“They pressed to redraw the political map of Yemen and, in a way, they were encouraged by Benomar,” the official said.
The Moroccan diplomat had been instrumental in negotiating a peace deal that eased former president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office in February 2012 after a year of bloody protests against his three decade rule, and Ban paid tribute to his work.
The UN chief “greatly appreciates the tireless efforts Mr. Benomar has made over the years to promote consensus and trust on a peaceful way forward in Yemen,” a statement said.
Among the candidates to replace him is Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who currently heads the UN Ebola mission in Accra, a UN official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
– ‘No half measures’ –
Benomar’s resignation came hot on the heels of the adoption by the UN Security Council of a resolution that the Saudi led coalition saw as support for its bombing campaign.
The resolution — the first formal action taken by the Security Council since air strikes started on March 26 — demands that the rebels withdraw from Sanaa and all other areas they have seized.
It also slapped an arms embargo on the rebels and army units still loyal to Saleh who have allied with them, providing crucial support as they have advanced out of their stronghold in the northern mountains into mainly Sunni areas.
Hadi’s newly appointed Vice President Khaled Bahah called on those army units on Thursday to drop their support for the Huthis.
“I call on all troops and security force personnel to accept the command of the legitimate government and protect the country,” he told reporters in Riyadh, where he is exiled along with the president.
As the air campaign entered its fourth week, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States vowed that it would continue until all its objectives were achieved.
“There can be no half measures,” Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Washington.
Jubeir said the first three weeks had been “very successful” and had “been able to degrade and destroy much of the military infrastructure that Huthis and Saleh possess.”
Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri said the bombing campaign had “in a large proportion” succeeded in halting the rebels’ advance in the south.
Troops and militia loyal to Hadi have been battling the rebels in Aden and other southern provinces.
Overnight, coalition aircraft carried out fresh air strikes on rebel positions in Aden, killing at least eight rebels, a military source said.
The World Health Organization says at least 736 people have died in the conflict since April 12 and more than 2,700 have been wounded.
The United Nations said nearly half the casualties were civilians, and UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called Tuesday for an investigation.