Saudi Arabia proposes ceasefire in Yemen

Proposal announced by Saudi FM will include reopening of Sanaa airport, fuel and food imports through Hodeidah port


Reuters March 22, 2021
Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud speaks during an interview on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue security conference in the Bahraini capital, on December 5, 2020. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

DUBAI:

Saudi Arabia presented a new peace initiative on Monday to end the war in Yemen, including a nationwide ceasefire and the reopening of air and sea links, but its Houthi enemies said the offer did not appear to go far enough to lift a blockade.

The initiative, announced by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, would include the reopening of Sanaa airport, and would allow fuel and food imports through Hodeidah port, both of which are controlled by the Iran-aligned Houthis.

Political negotiations between the Saudi-backed government and the Houthis would be restarted, the prince said, adding that it would take effect as soon as the Yemeni sides agreed to it.

The offer was welcomed by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government in a statement from the foreign ministry based in the southern port of Aden.

But the Houthis said the initiative provided “nothing new”, as it still fell short of their demand for a complete lifting of the blockade on Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port.

“We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade of ports and airports and an initiative to allow in 14 ships that are held by the coalition,” the group’s chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam said.

“Opening the airports and seaports is a humanitarian right and should not be used as a pressure tool,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has been under increasing pressure to put an end to the six-year Yemen conflict since new US President Joe Biden signalled Washington would no longer support Riyadh’s intervention. The conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabi and Iran, has been stalemated for years while millions of people are on the verge of starvation.

Abdulsalam said the Houthis would continue to talk with the Saudis as well as the United States and mediator Oman to try to reach a peace agreement.

The Houthis have demanded the lifting of an air and sea blockade, which they blame for what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition has said the port and airport must be restricted to prevent weapons from reaching the Houthis who control the capital and most populous areas.

Monday’s Saudi peace proposal announcement did not specify which routes would be permitted for aircraft flying to Sanaa, or whether food or fuel imports through Hodeidah port would be subject to additional pre-authorisations.

The United Nations has already set up a mechanism in Djibouti to inspect ships before they dock at Hodeidah port, but Saudi-led coalition warships hold up most vessels despite UN clearance.

Prince Faisal said tax revenues from the port would go to a joint bank account in Hodeidah’s branch of Yemen’s central bank. That was agreed by both Yemeni sides in Stockholm in 2018, although the Saudi-led coalition had not yet fully endorsed it.

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