Yemen’s warring sides agree 2-month truce in major breakthrough

Warring parties in Yemen’s seven-year conflict have for the first time in years agreed to a national truce, which would also allow fuel imports into Houthi-held areas and some flights operating from Sanaa airport , the UN envoy said on Friday.

The UN-brokered deal between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Houthi group is the most important step yet towards ending a conflict that has killed tens of thousands people and left millions hungry. The last nationwide coordinated cessation of hostilities took place during the peace talks in 2016.

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg said the two-month truce would come into effect at 7 p.m. local time on Saturday and could be renewed with the consent of the parties. Saturday marks the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The purpose of this truce is to give Yemenis a much-needed break from the violence, relief from humanitarian suffering and above all hope that an end to this conflict is possible,” Grundberg said in a statement, adding that he would push for a permanent ceasefire.

The conflict is seen as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. Riyadh has struggled to pull through and Yemen has been a point of tension with Washington.

Yemen’s economy and basic services, including health care, have collapsed, leaving 80% of the population of around 30 million people dependent on aid.

People stand at the site of Saudi airstrikes in Sanaa on Saturday. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

“It must be a first step to end … the war”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the truce “must be a first step to ending Yemen’s devastating war”, urging the parties to seize the opportunity to “resume a Yemeni political process inclusive and comprehensive”.

The deal calls for a halt to offensive military operations, including cross-border attacks, and allowing oil tankers to enter the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah and commercial flights to and from the airport from the capital, Sanaa, “to predetermined destinations in the region”.

Grundberg said the parties had agreed to discuss opening roads to effectively besieged Taiz and other Yemeni areas.

UN and US envoys had been trying since last year to broker a permanent truce needed to restart stalled political negotiations. The Houthis wanted the coalition blockade lifted first, while the alliance sought a simultaneous deal. The Houthis have recently stepped up missile and drone strikes on the kingdom, including its oil facilities, and the coalition has stepped up airstrikes.

The Yemeni government, which the Houthis ousted from Sanaa in late 2014, said earlier it would facilitate arrangements for releasing prisoners, opening Sanaa airport and allowing tankers to Hodeidah.

“We immediately announce the release of the first two tankers from the port of Hodeidah,” Foreign Minister Ahmed Bin Mubarak said.

Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam welcomed the truce. Another senior official, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said his “credibility would be in the implementation”.

A copy of the truce deal seen by Reuters and reported by Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said 18 tankers would have access during the truce period and two flights a week would be operated from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt.

The Saudi-led coalition also welcomed the truce in Yemen on Friday, saying it supported UN efforts and arrangements to maintain the deal, Saudi state television reported.

The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in March 2015 against the Houthis, controls Yemen’s seas and airspace.

Bread vendors wait for customers on a street as Yemenis prepare for the fasting month of Ramadan amid war and soaring food prices, in Sanaa on Friday. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

US President Joe Biden welcomed the truce but said it must be honored and he urged negotiators to “undertake the hard and necessary work” to achieve a lasting peace.

The parties are also discussing a prisoner swap under which hundreds of people from both sides would be released, including 16 Saudis, three Sudanese and a brother of Yemen’s president.

The last major prisoner exchange, involving around 1,000 detainees, took place in 2020 as part of the confidence-building measures agreed at the last peace talks held in December 2018.