Saudi Arabia is proposing a ceasefire in Yemen, but the Houthis are cautious

Saudi Arabia unveiled a new peace initiative on Monday to end the war in Yemen, including a nationwide ceasefire and the resumption of air and sea connections, but its Houthi enemies said the offer did not seem to go far enough to lift a blockade.

The initiative, announced by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, would include the reopening of Sanaa Airport and allowing the import of fuel and food through the port of Hodeidah, both of which are controlled by Iranian-adapted Houthis.

Political talks between the Saudi government and the Houthis would resume, he told a news conference. It would take effect when the Yemeni sides accepted.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government issued a statement welcoming the offer.

But the Houthis said the initiative provided “nothing new” as it still lacked their demand for a complete lifting of the blockade at Sanaa Airport and Hodeidah Port.

“We expected Saudi Arabia to announce an end to the blockade of ports and airports and an initiative to allow 14 coalition-held ships,” Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam told Reuters.

A “humanitarian right” should not be used as a pressure tool, he said.

The group would continue talks with the Saudis, the United States and mediator Oman for a peace agreement, he said.

The United States welcomed the Saudi Arabia’s and Yemen’s internationally recognized governments’ commitment to a ceasefire and negotiations, said Jalina Porter, the State Department’s spokeswoman.

Asked about Abdullah Salam’s comments that the Houthis expected Saudi Arabia to completely lift the blockade of ports and airports, she said “negotiations are under way” and Riyadh’s announcement was “a step in the right direction.”

The war has killed more than 100,000 people, many of them civilians, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a database that tracks violence in Yemen.

The conflict, generally seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been subdued for several years, leaving 80% of Yemen’s population dependent on aid. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.

Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition fighting for the movement, has been under increasing pressure to end the six-year-old conflict since US President Joe Biden signaled that Washington would no longer support the intervention and that the UN warns of a looming famine. in Yemen.

The United States welcomed Saudi Arabia’s and Yemen’s internationally recognized governments’ commitment to a ceasefire and negotiations, said Jalina Porter, the State Department’s spokeswoman.

Asked about Abdullah Salam’s comments that the Houthis expected Saudi Arabia to completely lift the blockade of ports and airports, she said “negotiations are under way” and Riyadh’s announcement was “a step in the right direction.”

The UN also welcomed the Saudi initiative, although UN spokesman Farhan Haq emphasized: “It is still early days.”

Haq said that the proposal is adapted to the UN initiative and that the special envoy Martin Griffiths would now follow up with the warring parties.

Military escalation

Prince Faisal said Riyadh would work with the international community to pressure the Houthis “to accept and come to the negotiating table” and that the Saudi coalition continues to face Houthi attacks “with the necessary response”.

The movement has intensified drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, including oil facilities, and a ground offensive to seize Yemen’s gas-rich Marib region. The coalition has responded with airstrikes on Houthi’s military sites.

The Houthis demand that the blockade be lifted, which they blame for what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The Saudi-led coalition and aid agencies have accused the group of obstructing aid work.

The coalition has said the port and airport must be restricted to prevent weapons from reaching the Houthis, who control the capital and the most populated areas.

Riyadh’s announcement did not specify which routes would be allowed to Sanaa, or whether imports through Hodeidah port would be subject to further prior approvals.

The UN has already set up a mechanism in Djibouti to inspect ships before they land in the port of Hodeidah, but coalition warships are holding up most ships despite UN approval.

Prince Faisal said the tax revenue from the port would go to a joint bank account in Hodeidah’s branch of Yemen’s central bank.

(REUTERS)