Yemen’s warring parties to begin first cease-fire in 6 years
By Ben Hubbard
A two-month truce between the warring parties in Yemen went into effect over the weekend, providing some hope for a reduction of violence in a war that has roiled the Arabian Peninsula and caused a crushing humanitarian crisis.
The truce, the first coordinated cease-fire in years, which was brokered by the United Nations, includes a stop to all attacks inside Yemen and outside its borders; the entry of fuel ships to a rebel-controlled port; and the resumption of some commercial flights at the international airport in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.
“The aim of this truce is to give Yemenis a necessary break from violence, relief from the humanitarian suffering and, most importantly, hope that an end to this conflict is possible,” Hans Grundberg, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, said in a statement announcing the agreement Friday.
President Joe Biden welcomed the truce.
“The cease-fire must be adhered to, and as I have said before, it is imperative that we end this war,” he said in a statement. “After seven years of conflict, negotiators must undertake the hard and necessary work to reach political compromises that can bring about an enduring future of peace for all the people of Yemen.”
The truce, which began at 7 p.m. Saturday in Yemen, is the first cease-fire agreed to by all sides since 2016. It coincides with the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
Officials and analysts welcomed the move but cautioned that it was at best a first step in a long, complicated process of working through the many issues that have shattered Yemen, ravaged its economy and undermined the security of its wealthy, oil-producing neighbors.
The conflict began in 2014 when Houthi rebels seized Sanaa and much of the country’s northwest, sending the government into exile. A few months later, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened with a vast air campaign, hoping to drive back the Houthis, who are supported by Iran, and restore the government.
But the war settled into a grinding stalemate. Coalition jets destroyed infrastructure and bombed weddings and funerals, killing civilians. The Houthis deployed child soldiers, laid land mines and launched increasingly sophisticated drone and missile attacks at Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, another coalition member. The Yemeni government remained mired in infighting with other factions supposedly on its side.
The United States has not been directly involved in the war but is a major supplier of bombs and jets to members of the coalition and has provided Saudi Arabia with technology and intelligence to help defend its southern border with Yemen.
As the war progressed, the Houthis received military equipment and training from Iran, the Saudis’ regional nemesis, and launched increasingly sophisticated attacks on Saudi Arabia and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates. One attack last month set ablaze two large storage tanks at an oil facility in the western Saudi city of Jeddah.
Diplomats from the U.N., other gulf nations and the U.S. have been trying for years to broker peace talks, efforts that have so far produced only short-term reductions in violence.
The barriers to the reunification of the country and lasting peace are many.
The Houthis’ grip on Sanaa remains firm, regardless of years of coalition airstrikes and offensives by the Yemeni army and its allies. The movement has set up a de facto administration to govern its territory and is not likely to give up control willingly without exacting concessions that the Yemeni government and the coalition may be loath to grant.
The coalition’s Yemeni allies are a fractious grouping that includes parts of the Yemeni army and armed successionists who have fought against each other. Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is widely unpopular and seen as out of touch with the suffering of Yemenis, giving him little ability to unify the ranks.
And Iran has found that adding fuel to the war is an easy way to bog down Saudi Arabia, a practice it might not easily give up.
Still, the main combatants all appeared to be on board with the truce.
Yemen’s foreign minister, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, welcomed the truce and said that two fuel ships would soon unload in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida, easing a coalition blockade that has made fuel prices skyrocket.
He also said that limited international flights would soon resume at Sanaa’s airport, which the coalition bombed early in the war and has kept closed to all but limited humanitarian flights. That has made it much harder for Yemenis from northern Yemen to travel, including those wounded in coalition strikes who need treatment abroad.
Muhammad Abdel-Salam, a Houthi spokesperson, expressed support for the truce on Twitter. Mohammed al-Houthi, a senior Houthi official, wrote that “its credibility will be achieved by its implementation.”
Grundberg said he would use the truce for further discussions with the parties “with the aim to reach a permanent cease-fire, address urgent economic and humanitarian measures and resume the political process.”