Yemen at risk of return to war as ceasefire expires

Truce between rebel Houthis and Saudi coalition was initially brokered in April

The latest ceasefire in Yemen’s war has expired, risking a return to full-scale hostilities between the rebel Houthis and the joint military forces of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

UN envoy Hans Grundberg expressed his regrets that no agreement had been reached by the deadline for the third two-month ceasefire, saying: “An extended and expanded truce would provide additional critical benefits to the population.”.He urged the warring parties “to fulfil their obligation to the Yemeni people to pursue every avenue for peace”.

He added: “I am grateful for the constructive engagement at the leadership level from both sides over the past weeks. And I appreciate the position of the [Saudi-sponsored] government of Yemen on engaging positively with my proposal [for renewal]. I will continue to work with both sides to try and find solutions.”

There were calls to renew the ceasefire from aid agencies and the UN, US and Russia. But the Houthis, who have modest support from Iran, said the ceasefire was at a “dead end” and argued they had “not seen any serious willingness [by the Saudis and Emiratis] to address humanitarian issues as a top priority”.


Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree demanded a truce which permits Yemenis to exploit their oil wealth to pay civil servants’ salaries.

He also warned oil companies operating in the Emirates and Saudi Arabia to leave. Before the ceasefires began in April, the Houthis launched missile and drone attacks on oil facilities in both countries in retaliation for the Saudi aerial bombing of Yemeni military and civilian targets.

The ceasefires produced a 60 per cent reduction in casualties, increased deliveries of food and medical supplies, and lowered inflation and the prices of imported food and fuel.

Saudi sea and air blockades were eased at Houthi-held Hodeida port, allowing fuel imports to quadruple. The easing of a blockade at the Houthi-controlled Sanaa airport allowed limited flights to resume.

However, other elements included in the initial ceasefire deal have not been implemented. There was no agreement over salary payments to state employees in the Houthi-controlled north, where 80 per cent of Yemenis live, as well as the government-administered south. The Houthis did not lift their siege of the government-held city of Taiz and UN and Omani-mediated peace talks did not resume. These elements have been repeated in Mr Grunberg’s renewal proposals.

The Saudi-Emirati military intervention in March 2015 transformed a civil conflict between the Houthis and the government into a Gulf regional war which has devastated Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world. According to the UN, more than 377,000 Yemenis have been killed, 4.3 million displaced, and 73 per cent of a population of 30 million is dependent on humanitarian aid which has been cut due to a 50 per cent reduction in foreign funding.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times