Yemen’s Houthis hint at chance of truce with Saudi Arabia
Yemen’s Houthi rebels announced on Saturday that the group was suspending missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia for three days. The group said this could become a lasting peace initiative should the Saudi-led coalition stop its own devastating bombing campaign and lift its blockade on the country’s Red Sea ports. It has vowed to halt offensive operations on the ground in Yemen during the same period.
“This is a sincere invitation and practical steps to rebuild trust and take all the sides from the arena of talks to the arena of acts,” the Houthis’ Supreme Political Council president, Mahdi al-Mashat Mashat, said on Saturday in a speech broadcast on Yemeni television.
The truce could be extended, Mashat said, if certain conditions were met. Strikes on Saudi Arabia would continue to be halted if the coalition lifted its port blockade and stopped its air campaign. And the rebel group would also cease its ground offensive if Riyadh withdrew its troops and ceased its support of local militia in Yemen.
On Sunday, just hours after the rebels announced the truce, the coalition struck a medical center in Makram, a coastal town on Kamaran Island in the Red Sea, according to Yemen’s al-Masirah channel. Six civilians, including three children, were reportedly injured. The broadcaster also accused Riyadh of having carried out aerial attacks in the Jarban and Dhabwa residential neighborhoods of the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa.
Although Riyadh proposed a nationwide ceasefire last year, offering to allow the reopening of Sanaa airport and to let fuel and food pass through the port of Hodeidah, the Houthis rejected the deal, insisting any ceasefire must include a complete lifting of the blockade. Saudi Arabia denies there is any blockade, and claims it is simply preventing weapons-smuggling.
On Saturday, the coalition launched a new operation, conducting airstrikes on Sanaa and Hodeidah. It came after Friday’s missile and drone attack on Saudi oil depots in Jeddah, which is hosting its first Formula 1 racing event. The Houthis have stated that their latest, high-profile offensive had been intended to force Saudi Arabia to end what they described as the siege of Yemen.
The United Nations is working on establishing temporary truce between the two sides during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on April 2, in advance of which Saudi Arabia is to host talks with Yemeni officials.
The bloody seven-year war in Yemen started as a conflict between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Shia Houthi rebels. However, in March 2015, a coalition of states led by Saudi Arabia and heavily supported by the US and UK intervened, conducting massive air raids against the Houthis, whom the Saudis claim are backed by Iran. Tehran has consistently denied any involvement. Riyadh’s professed endgame in the conflict is the reinstallation of the ousted Yemeni president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was elected in 2012 on a one-man ballot.
The Saudi intervention has had a devastating effect on Yemen, with some 400,000 people having been killed as of late 2021, according to UN estimates. International monitors claim children aged under five make up a large proportion of the casualties, with many having reportedly died of “indirect” causes, including hunger, disease, and a lack of medicine amid a blockade on Yemen’s ports.