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Yemen war: Saudi Arabia proposes peace initiative but Houthis say little new in it

Saudi proposal calls for UN-monitored ceasefire and opening Sanaa airport to a 'number of regional and international direct flights'
Forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government in the northwestern Hajjah province, 11 March (AFP/File photo)
By MEE correspondent in Sanaa

Saudi Arabia announced a ceasefire initiative to halt the fighting in Yemen, but the Houthi rebels dismissed it as "not serious."

The development comes as Houthis push to capture the strategic city of Marib amid international efforts to end the war on its sixth anniversary.

'This initiative is only for media consumption. It is not serious,'

- Senior Houthi official

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan revealed the Saudi proposal on Monday, which would entail an end to the fighting, partially opening the airport in Sanaa to certain destinations and reviving a revenue-sharing mechanism between the Houthis and Riyadh-backed government.

Bin Farhan said the announcement demonstrates the kingdom's continued efforts to end the crisis and "relieve the humanitarian suffering of the brotherly Yemeni people".

"This initiative comes in the context of the ongoing support for the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, and the American envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, and the positive role of Oman to push the effort to find a political solution to the crisis," the chief Saudi diplomat said.

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He said the "comprehensive" proposal includes a UN-monitored ceasefire, creating a joint account in Yemen's central bank for revenue-sharing, paying public-sector employees across the country and reopening the airport in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa to "a number of regional and international direct flights".

Cold Houthi response

The Houthis were quick to issue a cold response to the initiative. The rebels have been calling for the unconditional end of the air and naval blockade on Yemen. A Houthi official, who is a member of the Supreme Political Council,  played down the Saudi proposal on Monday.

"This initiative is only for media consumption. It is not serious. The aggression countries, led by Saudi Arabia, want to bend the truth by telling the world they are proposing peace while Ansar Allah rejects it," the official told Middle East Eye, using an alternative name for the Yemeni rebels.

The Houthis refer to the Saudi-led coalition as the "aggression countries".

"The aggression countries are giving their conditions for this initiative to reopen Sanaa airport, and this is a clear confirmation that they are imposing a siege on Yemenis," he said.

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He added that lifting the blockade should not be part of a deal to give Yemenis some of their "looted rights". 

"If they are serious, they can lift the siege on Yemenis and then propose initiatives to express their good intentions."

Mohammed Abdulsalam, a Houthi spokesman, also said he saw little new in the Saudi proposal. 

"Any stance or initiative that does not note that Yemen has been subjected to aggression and siege for six years and that does not separate the humanitarian issue from any military or political deal and lift the siege offers nothing serious and nothing new," Abdulsalam wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Abdulsalam had told Reuters that the group would continue to talk with Riyadh, Muscat and Washington to try to reach a peace agreement.

"Opening the airports and seaports is a humanitarian right and should not be used as a pressure tool," Abdulsalam told Reuters.

Hadi's government welcomes proposal

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, chiefly the United Arab Emirates, started a bombing campaign against the Houthis in March 2015 to restore the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Riyadh views the Houthis as Iranian proxies, but the rebels deny receiving material support from Tehran.

The war has killed more than 230,000 people, caused outbreaks of disease and has brought Yemen to the verge of famine, in what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

US President Joe Biden announced in February the halting of American support for the Saudi-led coalition's "offensive operations" in Yemen. 

Hadi's government welcomed the Saudi initiative on Monday. 

"We note that the Houthi militias have met all the previous initiatives with inflexibility and stalling and worked to prolong and worsen the humanitarian crisis by refusing our proposal to open the Sanaa airport and stealing the humanitarian aid and the revenues of the Hodeidah port to pay the salaries of employees," a statement by the internationally recognised government said.  

"The Houthis continue to mislead the international community by creating crises at the expense of the suffering of Yemenis."

A source in the information ministry in Aden told MEE that the Houthis have been rejecting the kingdom's initiatives because they "don’t understand peaceful solutions".

"The Houthis will consider this initiative to be an indicator of weakness by Saudi Arabia and not a peace deal, and as always they will reject it."

Blinken-bin Farhan call

Over the past few weeks, the Houthis have escalated missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia and the kingdom has renewed its bombing of Sanaa.

The rebels have also been pushing to capture the oil-rich region of Marib, home to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people.

Western countries had called on the Houthis to halt their Marib offensive, accusing the rebels of deepening the humanitarian crisis.

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"We, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, condemn the sustained Houthi offensive on the Yemeni city of Marib and the major escalation of attacks the Houthis have conducted and claimed against Saudi Arabia," the countries said in a joint statement earlier this month.

"Their determined attack on Ma'rib is worsening an already dire humanitarian crisis."

The UN Security Council also denounced the Houthi offensive last week.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Saudi counterpart bin Farhan, voicing support for efforts to end the war without specifically endorsing the Saudi initiative which had not been announced publicly.

"Secretary Blinken reiterated our commitment to supporting the defense of Saudi Arabia and strongly condemned recent attacks against Saudi territory from Iranian-aligned groups in the region," the State Department said in a statement describing the call.

" The Secretary and the Foreign Minister discussed their close cooperation to support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Griffiths and US Special Envoy Lenderking to end the conflict in Yemen, starting with the need for all parties to commit to a ceasefire and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid."

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