Talks aimed at ending Yemen’s seven-year war to begin in Riyadh this month

Rebel Houthis have welcomed talks if the venue is neutral and have given priority to lifting Saudi blockade on Houthi-held ports and airports

Talks aimed at ending Yemen's seven-year war will commence in Riyadh at the end of this month, the Gulf Co-operation Council has announced.

Council secretary general Nayef Falah al-Hajraf said it was hoped the talks, scheduled from March 29th to April 7th, would "open humanitarian corridors and achieve stability" in the devastated country where fighting has sharply escalated this year.

Among the 500 invitees will be UN and US envoys to Yemen, council ambassadors and representatives of 19 interested countries.

Yemen's Saudi-sponsored president Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council and Political Bureau of the National Resistance led by Brig Tareq Saleh, nephew of slain ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have agreed to attend, as have Yemeni civil society, local and tribal leaders.

The rebel Houthis, who seek to oust Mr Hadi, have welcomed talks if the venue is neutral and have given priority to lifting the Saudi blockade on Houthi-held ports and airports. The majority of 30 million Yemenis live in Houthi-controlled areas, making a ceasefire and a viable peace process imperative.

Houthi foreign affairs spokesman Ahmed al-Imad said Saudi Arabia "is a party to the aggression and not a neutral party". In March 2015, the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates launched a war to restore Mr Hadi, who was expelled from the capital, Sana'a, after the Houthis seized the city in 2014.

More than 377,000 Yemenis have died and four million have been displaced by the war.

The council intends to establish a mechanism to carry out decisions adopted during the talks but without Houthi co-operation there cannot be implementation and the conflict could continue to ravage the region’s poorest country.

The UN has raised only $1.3 billion (€1.17bn) for humanitarian aid for Yemen for 2022, $3 billion less than the $4.27 billion desperately needed by 161,000 Yemenis on the verge of famine and 19 million facing food insecurity. The war’s authors, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, have contributed nothing.

Donors

Last year’s donors provided only $1.7 billion, rather than the $3.85 billion needed to adequately fund UN programmes, forcing cuts in rations and services.

World Food Programme director David Beasley said: "We have no choice but to take food from the hungry to feed the starving , and unless we receive immediate funding, in a few weeks we risk not even being able to feed the starving."

The Ukraine war may not only divert funding from Yemen's crisis but may also reduce Yemeni access to bread as the country depends on Ukraine for 22 per cent of wheat imports. Rising prices could make food and fuel too expensive for most Yemenis.

UN children fund's Yemen representative Philippe Duamelle stated: "The horrendous situation in Ukraine will have an indirect and direct impact on our ability to assist children in Yemen."