UNITED NATIONS — The Saudi-backed government of Yemen has agreed to a “pause” in fighting, starting Friday, so that humanitarian relief can be delivered in the country, United Nations officials said Thursday. The Houthi rebels who control large parts of Yemen have agreed to respect it as well, the officials said.
“I am personally feeling we are making some progress,” the United Nations mediator for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said by telephone as he was leaving Sana, the capital city, which the Houthis largely control. “We have all the reason to believe we have a pause in hand. I can tell you, coming from Sana, the needs are so big.”
The Yemeni government in exile has been saying for at least a week that it favors a pause, though it has also insisted that the Houthis must withdraw their forces from strategic cities.
While the various sides in the conflict have haggled over details of a truce, Yemen has suffered some of the deadliest violence since the start in March of a Saudi-led campaign of airstrikes against the Houthi rebels and the large parts of the Yemeni Army that have joined them. Airstrikes and shelling have killed hundreds of people in July alone.
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The Houthis have not yet agreed to withdraw, and officials in Saudi Arabia have not said publicly that they would halt the airstrikes. Even the Yemeni government’s letter to the United Nations accepting the truce contained a host of qualifications and conditions. All these factors will make any potential letup in the fighting very fragile.
“It will become clear Friday evening whether this pause is respected,” said Stéphane Dujarric, a United Nations spokesman in New York. He said the truce was due to begin at 11:59 p.m. local time on Friday and last a week, until Ramadan ends on July 17.
The air campaign by a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states has hit mosques, markets and, one on occasion, a United Nations compound, in apparent violation of international law.
The fighting has also blocked virtually all commercial shipments of food and fuel into the country, making food, water and electricity scarce and putting Yemen on the list of the world’s most severe humanitarian emergencies. Yemen depends almost entirely on imports for its food and fuel supplies, and it has not been able to persuade the Saudis to relax their naval blockade of Yemen’s ports and coastline.
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United Nations officials have warned of impending famine and an outbreak of dengue fever in much of the country. Four out of five people in the country are reckoned to be in need of emergency aid, and hospitals have run out of medicine and fuel.
In the Yemeni government’s letter, obtained by The Times, President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi laid out what he called several “requirements” for any humanitarian pause — including that the Houthis and their allies withdraw their fighters from four contested Yemeni provinces “to prove their good will.” The letter also said that the pause would initially be for five days, and would be renewable twice “if there are no violations by the Houthis and their allies.”
The United Nations envoy, Mr. Ould Cheih Ahmed, said Thursday afternoon that he and other United Nations officials were assured by Yemeni and Saudi government officials that those conditions would be left for later negotiations. He said the rebels and their allies had assured him that aid convoys would be allowed to reach all parts of the country and that “there will be no violations this time.”
Mohamed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi politburo in Sana, said on Thursday that his group had also accepted the postponement of its major demands — including the end of the Saudi bombing campaign — in the interests of a “pause aimed at alleviating the suffering of the people.” Mr. Bukhaiti expressed concern at the duration of the initial cease-fire, saying that “a week isn’t enough for the aid to arrive.”
Mr. Ould Cheih Ahmed said he had persuaded the Houthis to release, as a gesture of good will, a senior member of al-Islah, an Islamist party that opposes the Houthis and has supported the Saudi air campaign.
He said the Saudi-led coalition had given its blessing for a pause through the end of Ramadan on July 17. “We have all the reason to believe that the coalition is also going ahead with this proposal,” he said.
The United Nations said it hoped to use the humanitarian pause to stockpile aid in Yemen and deliver it to the areas in greatest need.
Kareem Fahim contributed reporting from Cairo, Ben Hubbard from Beirut, and Shuaib Almosawa from Sana, Yemen.
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(via NY Times)