Saudi Arabia and Houthis close in on terms for a ceasefire in Yemen

Houthis seek lifting of blockades on ports, airport in exchange for talks on nationwide truce

A Yemeni fighter backed by the Saudi-led coalition fires his weapon during clashes with Houthi rebels on the Kassara frontline near Marib, Yemen on June 20th. Photograph: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

A Yemeni fighter backed by the Saudi-led coalition fires his weapon during clashes with Houthi rebels on the Kassara frontline near Marib, Yemen on June 20th. Photograph: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

 

Saudi Arabia and rebel Houthis are closing on terms for a ceasefire in Yemen ahead of negotiations on a peace deal to end the six-year war.

The Houthis demand lifting the Saudi blockade of Houthi-held ports and airport in exchange for talks on a nationwide truce, according to Reuters, citing diplomatic and Houthi sources.

Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam said the ports and airport must be reopened “without impossible conditions or other measures that would restore the blockade in other forms”, which the Saudis tried in March, prompting the Houthis to reject a peace plan.

“After that we will discuss a comprehensive ceasefire which should be a real halt to hostilities, not a fragile truce, and that would include the exit of foreign powers from Yemen to facilitate political negotiations,” he said, adding that the withdrawal of foreign forces could be negotiated.

The rebels seek to restore an unhindered flow of fuel, food and humanitarian aid into the Houthi-held north where a majority of Yemenis live. Riyadh is prepared to agree to a deal but requires guarantees from both Oman, the main mediator, and Iran, which supports the Houthis, that Houthi attacks will cease.

Both sides seek an early end to the conflict. A Houthi offensive has stalled in oil-rich Marib province, the last under pro-Saudi forces in the north, while the war has cost Saudi Arabia over $100 billion and continues to drain the kingdom’s coffers.

If an agreement is reached, it would be the first breakthrough in efforts by the UN, Oman and, recently, the US, since failed peace talks were held in Sweden in 2018.

Humanitarian disaster

Progress has been suggested by the presence in Riyadh last week of UN mediator Martin Griffiths and US envoy Timothy Lenderking for discussions with Saudi, Yemeni government and Omani officials. Talks are continuing between Oman and Saudi Arabia.

The poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen became the world’s worst humanitarian disaster after Saudi Arabia and the Emirates intervened militarily in 2015 and imposed a blockade to halt arms shipments to the Houthis.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and his Abu Dhabi counter- part Mohammed bin Zayed had expected an early victory rather than a protracted war against well armed Houthis who have long-standing feuds with their wealthy Saudi neighbours.

The Saudi-Emirati aim was to prevent the Houthis from seizing all of Yemen after the government had fled the capital Sana’a for Riyadh. The UN estimates 233,000 Yemenis have died due to fighting, disease and hunger.

The Emiratis withdrew their troops in 2019 but have maintained ties to Yemeni southern separatists who skirmish with Saudi-allied local forces. They launch rockets and armed drones at Saudi cities, airports and oil installations in a bid to force Riyadh to end its intervention.