DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (UAE) – Saudi Arabia on Monday said it was offering a ceasefire to Yemen’s Houthi rebels in a long-running war to allow the reopening of a major airport in the capital, the kingdom’s latest attempt to end the fighting. The world’s worst humanitarian crisis in the poorest nation in the Arab world.
Saudi Arabia’s move comes after Yemeni Houthi rebels stepped up their drone strikes targeting the kingdom’s oil sites, briefly shaking global energy prices amid a coronavirus outbreak. This comes at a time when Riyadh is trying to restore its image with the United States under President Biden. Saudi Arabia has waged a war that has drawn international criticism for its embargo on food shortages in a country on the brink of starvation.
Will such a plan remain, another question remains. The unilaterally declared ceasefire in Saudi Arabia collapsed last year. Fighting erupted around the decisive city of Marib և in the Saudi-led coalition as airstrikes hit the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Sunday. The United Nations mission says another airstrike hit a food company in the port city of Hodeidah.
“Now it is up to the Houthis,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told reporters at a television conference in Riyadh. “The Houthis must decide whether to put their own interests first or the interests of Iran.”
A senior Houthi official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said the rebels were aware of the offer and were in direct contact with Saudis as well as with Oman. However, he said the Saudis needed to do more to see a ceasefire.
Saudi Arabia said the plan would be presented to both the Houthis and the internationally recognized Yemeni government later Monday. Both of them had to accept that there was a program of movement ahead of it. Any schedule set by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths.
Saudi Arabia made two concessions to the Houthis in the plan, at the same time not offering everything the rebels wanted in the past. The first is the reopening of Sanaa International Airport, which for Yemen is a possible connection to the outside world, which has not seen regular commercial flights since 2015. Officials did not immediately find out which trade routes they want to resume.
The second will see that taxes, duties and other charges have been generated in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah for importing oil to the joint account of the Central Bank of Yemen. Officials say the money will be used to fund other programs for the Houthis, the “recognized Yemeni government to pay civil servants.”
The Saudi government և The Yemeni government, which has returned, has accused the Houthis of stealing the money in the past. This year, a report by UN experts says that the Houthis “diverted” about $ 200 million from that fund.
“Only a small portion of the funds were used to pay salaries,” the report said.
Does the Houthis accept Saudi Arabia’s offer? On Friday, Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi called on Saudi Arabia to reopen the Sana’a airport, which was reopened to Saudi Arabia, and lift restrictions on cargo shipments to Hodeidah. The port handles most of the country’s potential imports. Both are the old demands of the Houthis, who invaded Sanaa in September 2014 from their northwestern strongholds.
“There is nothing new in the Saudi initiative,” another senior Houthi official told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “First, both the airport and the port must be opened.”
The Saudi-led coalition went to war in Yemen in March 2015, when the Houthis threatened to seize the Yemeni port city of Aden and completely overthrow the country’s internationally recognized government. The Saudis promised that the attack, the idea of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, would end soon.
Six years later, the fighting continues. According to the Conflict Resolution և war plan, some 130,000 people were killed in the war, including more than 13,000 civilians killed in targeted attacks. Tens of thousands of children have died of starvation and disease. Griffiths warned last week that “war is starting with all its might.”
The internationally recognized Yemeni government has hailed Saudi Arabia’s initiative as an attempt to “alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.” In a statement, his Foreign Ministry warned that the Houthis “persistently met with all previous initiatives” and “worked to deepen the humanitarian crisis.”
Since Biden took office, his administration has overturned President Donald Trump’s decision to brand Houthi a foreign terrorist organization, allowing US aid to flow into rebel-held territory. He also stopped US support for the Saudis in the war.
Biden sent US Ambassador to Yemen Tim Lendering to the region for talks on a political settlement. Lendering said earlier this month that the Houthis had made a vague ceasefire offer “for several days” without elaborating. He reportedly met with Houthi officials when he was on his way to Oman in February, which the State Department refused to acknowledge.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said he had spoken with the Saudi Foreign Minister about the war in Yemen.
Blinken supports “efforts to end the conflict in Yemen, from the need for a ceasefire by all parties to the need to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”
Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Hajj in Sanaa, Yemen, and Matthew Lin in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.