The Irish Times view on Yemen: Hoping for a breakthrough

With 14m facing famine, agreed ceasefire offers hope for UN-sponsored talks in Sweden

A girl walks near her house destroyed in an air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Faj Attan village, Sana’a, Yemen, last Thursday. Photograph: Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters

A girl walks near her house destroyed in an air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Faj Attan village, Sana’a, Yemen, last Thursday. Photograph: Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters

 

The Yemeni ceasefire and disengagement deal agreed last week is a substantial breakthrough and the most hopeful sign yet that this disastrous war can be negotiated to an end at United Nations-sponsored talks in Sweden. Government and rebel forces are to disengage in the key port city of Hodeida, 15,000 prisoners are to be exchanged and a humanitarian corridor opened to the strategic city of Taiz.

With more than 60,000 deaths and 14 million facing famine, the war pitches government forces supported by Saudi Arabia and Gulf states against Houthi rebels receiving arms from Iran. Its proxy nature between these regional powers and wider support for the Saudis from the US has quite unnecessarily prolonged its duration and radically deepened its destructive impact.

Above all, the war is driven by the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman who intervened decisively when it started in 2015 and since then has overseen widening assaults on civilians, markets, hospitals and humanitarian agencies.

The sheer scale of the casualties and destruction was obscured by the international support flowing to him as the Saudi heir-apparent. Courageous and dedicated work by international NGOs and UN organisations counteracted that. It culminated in dire warnings earlier this year about imminent famine, detailed research showing the number of violent deaths is six times the 10,000 usually assumed and reports of horrifying torture of prisoners by both sides. Their efforts raised the war’s international profile sufficiently to get these UN talks started in Rimbo, Sweden.

It took the murder of the US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul two months ago to shift the balance in the talks.

A majority vote in the US Senate to end the extensive US support for the Saudi war effort there and its unanimous approval of a resolution holding the crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s death on the same day as the ceasefire was announced reflects worldwide revulsion and signals a changing US policy.

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