Houthi rebels dismiss Saudi ceasefire proposal in Yemen

Houthi spokesman calls for complete lifting of Saudi air and naval blockades

Forces loyal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels prepare to carry the coffins of fellow fighters killed in battles with Saudi-backed government troops in the Marib region on March 23rd. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais / AFP via Getty

Forces loyal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels prepare to carry the coffins of fellow fighters killed in battles with Saudi-backed government troops in the Marib region on March 23rd. Photograph: Mohammed Huwais / AFP via Getty

 

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have dismissed a Saudi ceasefire proposal and stepped up their offensive to capture strategic Marib city, the remaining bastion of pro-Saudi forces in the north of the country.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel Salam called for complete lifting of the Saudi air and naval blockade of Houthi-controlled ports and airports and an end to Saudi-led military operations in Yemen.

The Saudi proposal mandated an end to fighting, partial reopening of Sana’a’s airport, and allowing food and fuel imports through Hodeida port, the main entry point for goods bound for Houthi-held areas. Mr Abdel Salam said the proposal was “nothing new”.

At least 14 ships laden with fuel have been prevented from landing at Hodeida although they have been inspected for arms and cleared by the UN. Consequently, the Houthis do not trust the Saudis as the blockade, they argue, is meant to prevent weapons from reaching the Houthis, but has affected fuel, food and medicine supplies.

While some relief ships have been able to dock, commercial vessels have not and Riyadh has come under international pressure to halt the blockade.

The acute shortage of fuel has prevented both humanitarian aid and commercial goods from reaching the 80 per cent of Yemenis who live in Houthi-held areas and exacerbated civilian hunger and illness.

More than 230,000 Yemenis have died of violence, malnutrition and disease since Saudi Arabia and the Emirates launched a six-year campaign to reinstate president Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, who was expelled by the Houthis in 2014 from Sana’a, the country’s capital.

Biden administration

While the Saudi-sponsored government backs the ceasefire proposal, the Houthis believe it is meant to polish Saudi Arabia’s image with the Biden administration in the US and ease pressure on Riyadh to end the war.

The Houthis have not only intensified their offensive against Marib city but also increased drone and rocket attacks on Saudi oil installations, unsettling global oil prices. In response, the Saudis have risked escalation by repeatedly bombing Sana’a and Hodeida port.

The ceasefire plan, Marib offensive and Saudi bombing raids have coincided with the abrupt return to Riyadh of prime minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, who heads the Saudi-backed Yemeni government based in the southern port of Aden.

His departure followed the storming of Aden’s presidential palace by hundreds of civilians and ex-military men demanding payment of salaries and decent living conditions, and demonstrations elsewhere against corruption and rising food prices.

Mr Saeed’s government has been criticised for failing to appoint an envoy to Washington at a time the US has assumed a peacemaking role and held indirect talks with the Houthis via Omani mediators.