CAMEROON – Yemen's warring sides have accepted a two-month truce, starting with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the U.N. envoy to Yemen said Friday.
The envoy, Hans Grundberg, announced the agreement from Amman, Jordan, after meeting separately with both sides in the country's brutal civil war in recent days. He said that he hoped the truce would be renewed after two months.
The agreement comes after a significant escalation in recent weeks that saw Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels claim several attacks across the country’s borders, targeting the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped the truce would pave the way toward peace, but added, “we know that these agreements are always fragile."
The truce is to start on Saturday, the first day of Ramadan, and will also allow for shipments of fuel to arrive in the Yemen's key port city of Hodeida and for passenger flights to resume from the airport in the capital, Sanaa.
U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said the warring sides agreed to halt all offensive military, air, ground and maritime operations inside Yemen and across its borders, starting at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The agreement came after the Saudi-led coalition, which has been battling the Houthis in Yemen since 2015, began observing a unilateral cease-fire on Wednesday — an offer that was rejected by the rebels. Saudi Arabia had proposed the unilateral cease-fire as part of talks it hosted aiming to resolve the war in Yemen. But the Houthis did not attend the talks because they were not held on neutral territory.
Last Saturday, the Houthis also announced their own unilateral initiative that included a three-day suspension of cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia, as well as fighting inside Yemen. Their announcement came shortly after they claimed attacks on a key Saudi oil facility in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, ahead of a Formula One race in the kingdom.
Inside Yemen, many front lines have largely stagnated, particularly in the key government-held city of Marib, as the war has become more stalemated.
On Friday, in a Twitter post, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the spokesman and chief negotiator of the Houthis, welcomed the cease-fire.
Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis swept into the capital, Sanaa, from their northwestern stronghold in the Arab world’s poorest country. The Houthis then pushed into exile the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, elected in 2012 as the sole candidate after the long rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A Saudi-led coalition, including the UAE, entered the war in March 2015 to try and restore Hadi’s government to power. But the war, which evolved into a proxy conflict, stretched into long bloody years, pushing much of Yemen's people to the brink of famine.
The United Nations and others had been pushing the coalition and rebels to stop the fighting for Ramadan, as has tenuously occurred in past years.
“This is the result of fairly painstaking work” by Grundberg and other diplomats, Haq said. He said the envoy called the truce “a first and long-overdue step” toward ending the fighting that has killed more than 150,000 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project figures. That figure includes both fighters and civilians.
During the two-month truce, the Saudi-led coalition will allow 18 vessels carrying fuel into the port of Hodeida, and two commercial flights a week from and to the Yemeni capital to Jordan and Egypt, according to a document of the truce obtained by The Associated Press.
After the truce takes effect, the U.N. envoy will call for both sides to convene to agree on opening roads around Taiz and other provinces, the document said. Taiz, which remains partially held by the forces fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government, has been blockaded by the Houthis for years.
There are hopes the truce could build momentum for further steps towards peace, though past attempts at cease-fires have repeatedly fallen through. The terms of this latest agreement bear a resemblance to a 2018 peace deal that brought an end to fighting in Hodeida but failed to bring wider peace.
“It must have taken a phenomenal effort to get here,” said Peter Salisbury, Yemen expert at the International Crisis Group. “But it’s going to take an even more monumental effort to turn the agreement into a reality.”
Guterres, speaking to reporters at the United Nations in New York, urged the parties to adhere to the truce, renew it after two months and work toward a political settlement.
“Today must be the start of a better future for the people of Yemen,” he said.
The Iran-backed Houthis and Yemen's internationally recognized government have also said they were working on a deal to release over 2,220 prisoners of war, including Hadi's brother and a former defense minister.
Associated Press writer Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.