In the aftermath of a series of attacks against Saudi Arabia, Houthi rebels in Yemen announced on Saturday March 26 that they would cease their offensives in their country and in the neighboring kingdom for three days.
The conflict in Yemen for more than seven years has pitted pro-government forces, backed by an international coalition led by Riyadh, against Houthi rebels, backed by Iran.
“Missile and drone strikes as well as all military actions against Saudi Arabia will be suspended for a period of three days”Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam said on Twitter, quoting senior rebel official Mahdi al-Mashat.
This truce could become “a definitive and permanent commitment” if Saudi Arabia lifts the “blockade” on Yemen, cease its air raids and withdraw its “foreign forces” on Yemeni soil, added Mohammed Abdelsalam.
Exchange of prisoners
This engagement also offers the end of the Houthi offensives on Yemeni territory, in particular around the oil-producing city of Marib, where the battle has raged in recent months. It also includes the exchange of prisoners.
The announcement comes the day after a new series of rebel attacks against Saudi Arabia, one of which caused – without causing any casualties – a gigantic fire at an oil site in Jeddah, close to the Formula 1 circuit which hosts the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
In response, the military coalition, which is entering its seventh year of intervention in Yemen, carried out airstrikes overnight from Friday to Saturday in rebel-held areas in Sanaa (north) and Hodeidah (west).
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday condemned rebel strikes and reprisals by the Saudi-led coalition, calling on all parties to “maximum restraint” and at the conclusion of a “negotiated agreement to end the conflict”.
Israel, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, expressed its side of its ” pain “ in Riyadh, after the rebel attacks, pointing the finger at Iran. “This attack is further proof that Iran’s regional aggression has no limits”, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter. French President Emmanuel Macron also condemned the attack by the Houthi rebels and expressed his “solidarity” with Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis’ announcement also comes at a time when an Iranian nuclear deal, after several months of talks in Vienna, is about to be concluded, in the ” days “ to come according to statements on Saturday by the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
Truce and talks
In addition to the capture of the capital Sanaa in 2014, the rebels seized most of the north of the country, the poorest of the Arabian Peninsula and plunged because of the war into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
However, the military coalition controls the country’s air and maritime space. While only UN flights are authorized via Sanaa airport, the Houthis have long been asking for the lifting of this “blockade” as a condition of talks.
Earlier on Saturday, a Saudi official familiar with the matter told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the Houthis “have proposed, through mediators, an initiative including a truce, the opening of the airport [de Sanaa] and the port [de Hodeidah] as well as intra-Yemeni talks”. “We are waiting for an official announcement from them because they are constantly changing their position”added this official who requested anonymity.
A diplomat based in Riyadh told AFP, also on condition of anonymity, that the UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, had started talks to reach a truce during Ramadan, the month of Muslim fasting which takes place this year in April.
The war in Yemen has directly and indirectly killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more, according to the UN. A large part of the population, especially children, is facing acute hunger, with situations close to famine.