Yemen peace prospects rise as government, Houthis closer to talks
November 20, 2018
Yemen’s government to take part in planned UN talks after Houthis say they will freeze attacks on Saudi-led coalition.
Yemen‘s internationally-recognised government has announced it will take part in proposed peace talks in Sweden, hours after a senior Houthi leader said the rebels will halt drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and their Yemeni allies.
The moves on Monday came amid a renewed push by UN envoy Martin Griffiths to get Yemen’s warring parties around the negotiating table.
Yemen’s foreign ministry said it has informed Griffiths of its decision to send “a government delegation to the talks with the aim of reaching a political solution”, according to the government-run Saba news agency.
Earlier in the day, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi Higher Revolutionary Committee and an influential political figure, announced the group’s “readiness to suspend and halt all military operations” – provided that the Saudi-UAE alliance battling his movement is prepared to do the same.
The decision was based on discussions with Griffiths to show “good faith” and support peace efforts, he said in a statement on Twitter.
The rebel group, which has been battling the Riyadh-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi for nearly four years, also said it was ready for a broader ceasefire if the Saudi-UAE-led coalition “wants peace”.
The war in Yemen – already one of the world’s most impoverished countries – has killed more than 56,000 people, according to a recent estimate, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
Griffiths welcomed the Houthi announcement in a Twitter post and called on all parties continue to show restraint “to create a conducive environment for convening the consultations”.
The envoy is trying to salvage peace talks after a round in September collapsed when the Houthis did not show up. He is expected this week to visit the capital, Sanaa, which has been under Houthi control since September 2014, to finalise arrangements for peace talks in Sweden.
No date has yet been set for the negotiations.
Griffiths previously said he has received “firm assurances” from Houthis and the government that they will attend the talks, which were initially scheduled to take place in November but has been pushed back to late December.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Monday reiterated the kingdom’s support for UN efforts to end the war.
Also on Monday, Britian presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for an immediate truce in the battleground port city of Hodeidah, according to the AFP news agency.
The text set a two-week deadline for the warring sides to remove all barriers to humanitarian aid.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from neighbouring Djibouti, said it was now “apparent that the parties in Yemen’s conflict are inching closer and closer to peace negotiations”.
“But whether that will result in what the UN is looking for – some sort of transitional government and a peaceful Yemen – is something else,” he said.
Our correspondent added that despite the Houthi decision to halt drone and missile attacks, its fighters were continuing to clash with government forces around Hodeidah.
“We pray that this will be the real beginning of peace in Yemen, we are all tired of this war,” said Mona Ibrahim, a teacher in Sanaa, told the Reuters news agency.
“We just want to live like other humans,” Mohammed al-Ahdal, a resident of Hodeidah, said.
Hussain al-Bukhaiti, a Sanaa-based political analyst, however, was sceptical.
“What the Houthis want is for it to look like they are giving a chance to the Saudis to prove they really want peace in Yemen,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I don’t think the Saudis will accept it because many times the Houthis have offered similar peace plans, but the Saudis did not accept them.”
However, Bessma Momani, professor of political science at University of Waterloo, said the pressure was rising on Riyadh and Washington to end the war in Yemen because of the international outcry over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, as well as the US Democrats winning control of the country’s House of Representatives.
“Now the stars are aligned geopolitically,” she told Al Jazeera.
“An important piece is the American attention – from the public, from the new Democrats coming into the House, and increased criticism generated post-Jamal Khashoggi,” she said.
“There is also battle fatigue on the ground on both sides. Hopefully, they realise this is a stalemate – there is no winning this war, it’s just sheer utter suffering of the Yemeni people,” she said.
Meanwhile, Houthi-run Al Masirah TV reported on Monday that Houthi forces fired overnight a ballistic missile on Saudi-backed forces in the desert of Midi, bordering Saudi Arabia.
The Houthi defence ministry said while it supported halting missile launches it also reserved the right to respond to attacks.