The two-month ceasefire, brokered by the UN special envoy to Yemen, which coincided with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan on Saturday, was a much needed respite from a war that has caused tremendous humanitarian suffering to the Yemeni people.
The truce will certainly remain fragile, with little trust between the two sides that have been fighting a prolonged war over the past seven years. Some analysts expect that the halt in hostilities might only last for the month of fasting. Others, however, are more cautiously optimistic, pointing out that regional and world circumstances have recently changed in a way that might give a little more hope to stop the ongoing war in Yemen.
The war between Russia and Ukraine, resulting in the disruption of global food and energy supplies, is certainly a key reason that contributed to the success of the intense effort by recently appointed UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg.
With oil prices skyrocketing after the beginning of the war nearly six weeks ago, world markets cannot bear the effects of further hikes in case Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis continue targeting oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with missiles and drones.
As soon as the truce was announced on Friday, oil markets responded positively and the barrel of oil went down to $104 from a high peak of $140 a month ago. The decision by US President Joe Biden and other major consumers to release oil from their crude strategic petroleum reserves also contributed to this price drop, according to experts.
Meanwhile, amid reports that Iran, the United States and other major world powers are close to reaching a renewed agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme in ongoing talks in Vienna, perhaps the truce in Yemen might seem like a goodwill gesture on the part of Iran, the main supporters of the Houthis, who have been in control in the capital Sanaa since 2014.
With fighting on the ground at a stalemate for more than a year, the truce has become necessary to ease the painful, prolonged suffering of the Yemeni people.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed since early last year in the province of Marib when the Houthis resumed a major offensive to seize control of the energy-rich city of Marib, the Yemeni government’s last bastion in the northern part of the country.
Despite aggressive missile, drone and ground attacks on the city, the Houthis failed to take control and suffered thousands of casualties. Some Yemeni experts believe that the Houthis, who have long rejected many similar calls for a truce, were forced into accepting the latest UN-brokered ceasefire after failing to invade Marib.
The Houthis have also been laying siege to Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city, for more than seven years, after failing to take control of the city centre. They positioned forces on the outskirts, barring people from leaving or crossing into the city, and gunning down those who moved close to their positions.
The truce announced by the UN envoy will hopefully bring an end to this inhumane siege, along with other vital measures needed to bring minimum improvements to the lives of Yemenis.
Grundberg, the United Nations envoy, said he would use the truce for further discussions with the parties “with the aim to reach a permanent c As Egypt now rightfully celebrates its ancient heritage, this must be accompanied by innovative and imaginative attempts at understanding its greatness, writes
Tarek Osman ease-fire, address urgent economic and humanitarian measures and resume the political process.” He added in a statement, “the aim of this truce is to give Yemenis a necessary break from violence, relief from the humanitarian suffering and, most importantly, hope that an end to this conflict is possible.”
Saudi Arabia and the Houthis have agreed to halt all ground, air and cross-border strikes, allow oil tankers to enter Hodeidah seaport, permit flights to depart and land at Sanaa Airport, and lift the siege on Taiz.
While announcing the ceasefire, the UN envoy stated: “The truce can be renewed beyond the two-month period with the consent of the parties,” during which he would intensify his effort to work on the more difficult task of reaching a political agreement among the warring parties.
Saudi Arabia already launched a new round of direct talks among rival Yemeni factions in Riyadh a week ago. The Houthis have boycotted the talks, claiming they were held on “enemy territory.” Yet the understandings expected to be reached among the influential Yemeni parties negotiating in Riyadh can certainly pave very solid grounds for further talks with the Houthis in case the UN envoy decided to move the talks to another European city, as the case has been in the past.
Yemen’s war has killed hundreds of thousands directly or indirectly, displacing millions and triggering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations. At least 80 per cent of the country’s 30 million people are dependent on foreign aid.
As Grundberg stated, “the success of this initiative will depend on the warring parties’ continued commitment to implementing the truce agreement with its accompanying humanitarian measures.” The priority for all parties concerned with the situation in Yemen must be helping the Yemeni people meet their basic humanitarian needs, bringing to an end the Yemen’s status as the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster,” even though the country is traditionally known as “the Happy Yemen.”
A version of this article appears in print in the 7 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.