Yemen rebels announce temporary Red Sea ceasefire

AFP , Wednesday 1 Aug 2018

File photo: Houthi Shia fighters stand guard during a rally to mark the third anniversary of the Houthis' takeover of the Yemeni capital, in Sanaa, Yemen, Sept. 21, 2017.

Yemen's Huthi rebels announced a two-week pause in Red Sea operations Wednesday, after attacks against Saudi tankers last week prompted Riyadh to suspend oil shipments through a key waterway.

"The unilateral suspension of our naval operations is for a limited period," the rebels said in a statement released by their defence ministry.

The Huthis' Twitter and Facebook accounts said the suspension will last two weeks.

But "it can be renewed and expanded to other fronts if this initiative is well-received and reciprocated", the statement said.

The Huthis are fighting a Saudi-led military coalition that backs Yemen's government.

A spokesman for the coalition did not immediately respond to a written request for comment on the Huthis' unilateral truce.

On July 26, Saudi Arabia said it was temporarily suspending oil shipments through the Bab al-Mandab Strait -- one of the world's busiest shipping lanes -- after two oil tankers operated by Saudi shipping group Bahri were attacked, slightly damaging one vessel.

The pro-Huthi Al-Masirah television said at the time that the rebels had targeted a Saudi warship named Al-Dammam, without providing further details.

The Huthis, allied with Saudi Arabia's regional arch-rival Iran, control Yemen's capital Sanaa and Hodeida port, the entry point for around three quarters of the impoverished country's imports.

The coalition on July 1 paused a ground offensive against Hodeida, in what coalition partner the UAE has described as a bid to give United Nations-led peace efforts a chance.

The head of the rebels' revolutionary council, Mohammed Ali al-Huthi, said Wednesday's offer of a temporary maritime truce came as "support for UN mediation and peace efforts".

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths has been pushing for a deal which envisions the rebels ceding control of Hodeida port to a UN-supervised committee.

Saudi Arabia and its allies joined Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's fight against the Huthis in 2015.

Yemen's war has killed nearly 10,000 people and triggered what the UN calls the world's largest single humanitarian crisis, with more than eight million Yemenis at risk of starvation.

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