The UN said Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to a two-month extendable truce starting Saturday, the first day of Ramadan for many Muslims, and an accord on fuel shipments and Sanaa airport.
Friday’s announcement brings a glimmer of hope in a brutal conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and left millions on the brink of famine in Yemen, long the Arab world’s poorest country.
“The parties to the conflict have responded positively to a United Nations proposal for a two-month truce which comes into effect tomorrow 2 April at 1900hrs,” UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said in a statement.
“The truce can be renewed beyond the two-month period with the consent of the parties.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres welcomed the announcement, expressing hope for a “political process” to bring peace to the country.
“You must take that momentum in order to make sure that this truce is fully respected and that it is renewed and… that a true political process is launched,” he said.
US President Joe Biden also welcomed the news, calling it a “reprieve for the Yemeni people,” but adding that the breakthrough was still insufficient.
“These are important steps, but they are not enough. The ceasefire must be adhered to, and as I have said before, it is imperative that we end this war,” Biden said in a statement.
The announcement comes as discussions on Yemen’s devastating conflict take place in Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh has been leading a military coalition to support the government against the Iran-backed Huthis since March 2015, after the rebels seized the capital Sanaa the year before.
The Huthis, who rejected joining talks held on enemy territory, last week made a surprise offer of a temporary truce and a prisoner swap.
The coalition later said it would cease military operations in Yemen during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The ceasefire, the first since April 2020, has been respected so far.
“The parties accepted to halt all offensive military air, ground and maritime operations inside Yemen and across its borders,” Grundberg said.
“They also agreed for fuel ships to enter into Hodeida (province’s) ports and commercial flights to operate in and out of Sanaa airport to predetermined destinations in the region.”
The Huthis have long demanded that the Saudi-led coalition lift an air and sea blockade, enforced since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.
At the last talks, held in Sweden in 2018, the opposing sides had agreed on a ceasefire for Hodeida — a lifeline entry point for goods and aid supplies to Yemen.
The parties “further agreed to meet under my auspices to open roads in Taiz and other governorates in Yemen,” Grundberg added Friday.
Grundberg called it “a first and long overdue step”.
“All Yemeni women, men and children that have suffered immensely through over seven years of war expect nothing less than an end to this war.”
The rebels have shunned the week-long discussions that launched in Riyadh on Wednesday and are hosted by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
Yemen’s devastated economy and its complex political situation as well as military matters and humanitarian aid are all on the table at the talks.
Grundberg said he would continue to engage with the parties during the two months, “with the aim to reach a permanent ceasefire”, and urged both sides to adhere to the truce.
The Huthis last week said they had agreed to a prisoner swap that would free 1,400 of their fighters in exchange for 823 pro-government personnel — including 16 Saudis and three Sudanese.
The last such swap was in October 2020, when 1,056 prisoners were released on each side, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Yemen’s 30 million people are in dire need of assistance, with about 80 percent of the population in need of some form of aid for survival.
A UN donors’ conference last month raised less than a third of the $4.27 billion target.
UN agencies warn that up to 19 million people in Yemen could need food assistance in the second half of 2022, with the number of people starving in famine conditions projected to increase five-fold over the year to 161,000.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed Friday’s announcement and urged the parties “to work towards a lasting political solution”.
“We now have a window of opportunity to finally secure peace and end the humanitarian suffering,” he said on Twitter.