RIMBO, SWEDEN: Yemen's warring parties on Thursday agreed to a ceasefire on a vital port in a series of breakthroughs in UN-brokered peace talks that could mark a major turning point after four years of devastating conflict.
If implemented, the deal on the Hodeida port, a key gateway for aid and food imports, could bring relief to a country where 14 million people stand on the brink of famine.
In a highly symbolic gesture on the seventh and final day of the peace talks in Sweden, Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani and rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam shook hands to loud applause - although both later voiced scepticism.
Yemen govt, rebels name 15,000 prisoners for swap
The two leaders gave contradictory readings of the Hodeida deal shortly after the announcement by UN chief Antonio Guterres.
The week-long talks left a number of key issues unresolved. A new round of talks is scheduled for the end of January, with analysts predicting the US will continue to up the pressure on ally Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the Yemen government, to end the conflict.
Impoverished Yemen has been mired in fighting between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi since 2014. But the war escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition stepped in on the government's side.
Under the Hodeida agreement, released Thursday evening, an "immediate ceasefire" should come into effect in Hodeida and its three ports upon signing, followed by a "mutual redeployment of forces... to agreed upon locations outside the city and the ports".
The UN will play a "leading role" in management and inspections at the ports, for four years under rebel control. The port will eventually be under the control of "local security forces" - a term the rival parties disagree on.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who agreed to the deal in Sweden, declined to specify whether the forces would be solely state security forces but told AFP they would report to the "central authority" - the government.
But the head rebel negotiator told AFP the phrase referred to the "security forces currently present in Hodeida" - the rebels.
Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the rebels of arms smuggling from Iran through Hodeida and the capital Sanaa, charges Iran has denied. The Saudi led-military coalition currently controls Yemen's maritime borders and airspace.
UN chief Guterres said the rivals had also reached a "mutual understanding" on Yemen's third city of Taiz, the scene of some of the most intense battles in the conflict, to facilitate the delivery of aid. No further details were given.
No deal has been reached on the future of the airport in the capital Sanaa or on economic measures needed to spare the population from further hunger.
Sanaa airport has been closed to commercial flights for nearly three years. The airport will be discussed at the next round of talks, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said.
Foreign Minister Yamani said the deal was the biggest step forward since the outbreak of the war but remained 'hypothetical'. "We will wait and see," he told AFP.
The rebels' Abdelsalam told AFP his group was "bound by an agreement".
Analysts said the Rimbo talks progressed better than anticipated, two years after the last negotiations hosted by Kuwait in 2016 collapsed with no breakthrough after three months.
"The Sweden talks have achieved more than anyone expected," the International Crisis Group told AFP.
"We have heard a different tone from the government of Yemen in these talks, and US pressure has clearly focused minds in the Gulf."
The case of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, along with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, were the turning point for the US.
The US, Britain and France are still the biggest arms sellers to Saudi Arabia.
Both the rebels and government alliance are accused of failing to protect civilians. The UN last year blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition for the killing and maiming of children in air raids.
The US Senate on Thursday approved a resolution to end American backing for the Saudi-led intervention.
The largely symbolic resolution cannot be debated in the House of Representatives before January, and would likely be vetoed in any case by US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly signalled his backing for the Saudi regime.
The Yemen ambassadors of core players in the conflict, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were in Rimbo for the last day of negotiations. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also met with both the government and rebels Thursday.
Saudi Arabia and its Arab coalition partners "strongly support" the agreement reached on Yemen, Riyadh's US ambassador Khalid bin Salman said.
Iran meanwhile hailed the breakthroughs as 'promising', adding it hoped future negotiations would bring about a final agreement.
Yemen central bank expects $3 bn deposits from Gulf donors
Yemen's central bank expects a $3 billion cash injection from Gulf allies Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, an official said Thursday, as the war-battered country seeks to prop up its sagging economy.
The deposits, if confirmed, would follow a $2.2 billion infusion by Saudi Arabia to stem a slide in the Yemeni riyal as the country reels from an economic downturn.
"The central bank governor Mohamed Zemam has spoken of additional deposits worth $3 billion after talks with sisterly donor countries," deputy central bank chief Shokeib Hobeishy told reporters in the port city of Aden.
"I believe two (billion) will come from the UAE... and another billion from Kuwait."
There was no immediate comment from the Gulf nations. A day earlier, Yemeni Prime Minister Moeen Abdulmalik Saeed had declined to name the potential donors, saying he would not give out details until the expected injection is confirmed.
"There are ongoing discussions about the efficiency of the central bank to handle these deposits," he told reporters on Wednesday.
The central bank, whose headquarters were moved to Aden in 2016 from the rebel-held capital Sanaa, has struggled to pay government salaries and revive the war-battered economy.
Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition supporting the beleaguered government in its fight against Shiite Houthi rebels, deposited $200 million in Yemen's central bank in October.
The oil-rich kingdom also deposited $2 billion in the central bank in January to boost the currency.
The riyal has lost more than two-thirds of its value against the dollar since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the government's fight against Yemen's Houthi rebels.
UN pushes Yemen rivals for truce at Sweden talks
It has made a partial recovery in recent weeks, but the weakened currency has left many unable to afford food staples in a nation where 14 million people are at risk of famine.
Yemen's warring parties on Thursday agreed to a ceasefire on the Red Sea port of Hodeida, a key gateway for aid and food imports, in UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden.
Since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in the conflict in 2015, around 10,000 civilians have been killed, according to the World Health Organisation.
US Senate votes to end military support for Saudi-led Yemen war
The US Senate sent a fresh warning to President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia Thursday by approving a resolution to end US military support for Riyadh's war in Yemen.
The largely symbolic resolution cannot be debated in the House of Representatives before January, and would likely be vetoed in any case by Trump, who has repeatedly signaled his backing for the Saudi regime.
But the bipartisan Senate 'yes' vote sends a strong message to the White House over anger on both sides of the aisle towards Riyadh, intensified by the mounting civilian death toll in Yemen and the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a voice vote, with no opposition, the Senate also approved a resolution condemning Khashoggi's murder and saying Saudi Crown
Prince Mohammed bin Salman was "responsible" for it. Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who votes with the Democrats, described the vote as "a historic moment."
"Today we tell the despotic government of Saudi Arabia that we will not be part of their military adventures," he said.
"So let us go forward today... and tell the world that the United States of America will not continue to be part of the worst humanitarian disaster on the face of the earth."
Anger at the human cost of the war in Yemen, as well as outrage over the killing of the US-based Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, have prompted a harder line in Congress about the US military's role in backing Saudi-led coalition strikes against Huthi rebels.
The rebuke of the young heir apparent to the Saudi throne is a direct challenge to Trump, who has sought to cast doubt on the crown prince's involvement in the killing and has stressed instead the importance of US trade and military ties with Riyadh.
Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell - a Trump loyalist - had called on his party to vote against the Yemen resolution although he did back the rebuke of Prince Mohammed, crafted by Bob Corker, a Republican who has been critical of the president.