The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen announced on Tuesday night that it would observe a unilateral ceasefire in the years-long war, a move it said is aimed at facilitating political negotiations in the kingdom that Yemen’s Houthi rebels are boycotting.
The coalition said it would cease hostilities in the brutal war from Wednesday at 6 a.m. local time, seeking to create a fertile environment for political talks and reinvigorate peacemaking efforts during the month. Holy Muslim Ramadan in Riyadh.
However, the announcement raised immediate doubts as the Iran-backed Houthis are skipping the talks because they are taking place in Saudi Arabia, their adversary in the conflict.
Other unilateral ceasefires announced by the coalition over the past two years have quickly collapsed.
The United Nations, diplomats and others had been pushing for a ceasefire to mark Ramadan which is set to begin this weekend, depending on the sighting of the new crescent moon.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began talks in Riyadh on Tuesday. The summit is expected to continue until April 7.
The Houthis also rejected the summit due to the continued closure of Yemen’s capital airport and restrictions imposed on the country’s ports by the Saudi-led coalition.
The rebels, who over the weekend attacked an oil depot in the Saudi city of Jeddah ahead of a Formula 1 race there, called for the talks to be held in a “neutral” country.
“The Saudi regime must prove its seriousness towards peace…by responding to a ceasefire, lifting the siege and expelling foreign forces from our country,” Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdul-Salam wrote on Twitter. .
“Then peace will come and it will be time to talk about political solutions in a serene atmosphere away from any military or humanitarian pressure.”
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However, a Geneva-based rights group focused on Yemen, SAM, accused the Houthis of arresting three Yemeni civil rights activists in Ibb province who had planned to attend the Riyadh talks. The Houthis did not respond to questions about the arrests.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh backed the Houthis’ position in a statement on Tuesday. He also noted that Ramadan was near and said a possible prisoner exchange could help ease tensions.
“The plan proposed in good faith by Sanaa carries a strong message suggesting a firm determination to end the war, lift the cruel blockade imposed on the population and resolve the crisis in Yemen through political means,” Khatibzadeh said.
The war in Yemen began in September 2014, when the Houthis invaded the capital, Sanaa, from their northwest stronghold in the Arab world’s poorest country. The Houthis then pushed into exile the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, elected in 2012 as the sole candidate after the long reign of Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A Saudi-led coalition went to war in March 2015 in an attempt to restore Hadi’s government to power. But the war dragged on for long bloody years, pushing Yemen to the brink of starvation.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in the war, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. These include both combatants and civilians; the most recent figure for civilian deaths in the conflict in Yemen stands at 14,500.
Additionally, Saudi airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians and targeted the country’s infrastructure. The Houthis have used child soldiers and planted landmines indiscriminately across the country.