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Yemen: Warring parties agree two-month truce

UN-brokered deal marks first coordinated cessation of hostilities nationwide since peace talks in 2016
Forces loyal to Yemen's Houthis take part in a military parade marking the seventh anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition's intervention, in Sanaa on 31 March 2022 (AFP)

The warring sides in Yemen's seven-year conflict have for the first time in years agreed to a nationwide truce, which will also allow fuel imports into Houthi-held areas and some flights to operate from Sanaa airport, the UN envoy to the country said on Friday.

The UN-brokered deal between a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Houthis is the most significant step yet towards ending a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and pushed millions into hunger. 

The last coordinated cessation of hostilities nationwide was during peace talks in 2016.

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UN special envoy Hans Grundberg said the two-month truce would come into effect on Saturday at 7pm (16:00 GMT) and could be renewed with the consent of the parties. 

Saturday marks the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"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," Grundberg said in a statement, adding he would press for a permanent ceasefire.

Iran on Saturday welcomed the truce and called for the seeking of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

"Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh expressed hope that the move could be a prelude to a complete lifting of a blockade and a permanent establishment of a ceasefire in order to find a political solution to the Yemen crisis," Iranian state media reported.

Yemen's economy and basic services - including healthcare - have collapsed, leaving 80 percent of the roughly 30 million population reliant on aid.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the truce "must be a first step to ending Yemen’s devastating war", urging the parties to build on the opportunity to "resume an inclusive and comprehensive Yemeni political process".

The deal stipulates halting offensive military operations, including cross-border attacks, allowing fuel ships to enter the Houthi-held Hodeidah port and commercial flights in and out of the airport in the capital, Sanaa, "to predetermined destinations in the region".

Grundberg said the parties also agreed to discuss opening roads in Taiz, which has effectively been under siege, and other Yemeni regions.

Prisoner swaps

UN and US envoys have been trying since last year to engineer the permanent truce needed to revive stalled political negotiations. 

The Houthis wanted the coalition blockade lifted first, while the alliance sought a simultaneous deal.

Riyadh has struggled to extricate itself from the conflict and Yemen has become a point of tension with Washington.

The Houthis recently intensified missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia, including its oil facilities, and the coalition has ramped up airstrikes.

The Yemeni government, which the Houthis ousted from Sanaa in late 2014, said earlier it would facilitate arrangements to release prisoners, open Sanaa airport, and allow fuel vessels into Hodeidah.

"We immediately announce the release of the first two fuel ships through Hodeidah port," said Yemen Foreign Minister Ahmed Bin Mubarak.

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Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam welcomed the truce. Another senior official, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said its "credibility would be in implementation".

The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in March 2015 against the Houthis, controls Yemen's seas and air space.

A copy of the truce deal seen by Reuters, and reported by Houthi-run Al Masirah TV, said 18 fuel vessels would be given access during the truce period and two flights a week would be operated from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt.

The Saudi-led coalition said on Friday that it welcomed the truce in Yemen, adding that it supports the UN efforts and arrangements to keep the deal, Saudi state TV reported.

US President Joe Biden also welcomed the truce but said it must be adhered to and he urged negotiators to "undertake the hard and necessary work" to reach an enduring peace.

The parties are also discussing a prisoner swap under which hundreds from both sides would be freed, including 16 Saudis, three Sudanese, and a brother of Yemen's president.

The last major prisoner swap, involving around 1,000 detainees, took place in 2020 as part of confidence-building steps agreed at the last peace talks held in December 2018.

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