Saudi-led coalition begins 48-hour truce in Yemen

Deal reached that Saudi Arabia says could be extended if Houthi rebels adhere to it.

A boy uses a cell phone to take photos of the wreckage of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike on the outskirts of Sanaa
More than 7,000 people have been killed since the Arab coalition began its military campaign [Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters]

A Saudi Arabian-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government against Houthi rebels has declared a 48-hour ceasefire that began on Saturday, according to local media. 

“It has been decided to begin a 48-hour ceasefire from 12:00 noon in Yemen’s timing (09:00 GMT) on Saturday,” a coalition statement carried by Saudi Arabia’s official SPA news agency said, adding that the truce could be renewed if Houthi fighters and their allies abided by it and allowed aid into besieged cities.

The coalition move came after a request for a ceasefire by Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, himself based in Riyadh, to Saudi King Salman, the statement said.

“Coalition forces will abide by the ceasefire,” it said, but warned that should the rebels or troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh make any military moves in the area, the coalition would respond.

The naval and air “blockade” would also remain in place and surveillance jets would continue to fly over Yemen, it added.

The coalition has been supporting forces loyal to Hadi’s government since March 2015.

A spokesman for forces allied to the Houthi rebels, Brigadier General Sharaf Luqman, confirmed that they would abide by the ceasefire.

“Based on the agreement reached in Muscat, we affirm our commitment to the ceasefire if the other party respects it,” Luqman said, referring to the accord signed with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the Omani capital on Monday.

The US chief diplomat had said after meeting with Houthi negotiators in Oman that they were ready to observe the ceasefire plan.

Hadi’s government was reluctant to accept the ceasefire plan, but finally agreed to the peace push.

READ MORE: No ceasefire deal with Houthis

UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed urged all parties “to encourage full respect for the cessation of hostilities and to ensure that it leads to a permanent and lasting end to the conflict.”

Since Thursday, more than 50 people have been killed in clashes between the rebels and loyalists on the outskirts of the third biggest city Taiz, medical and military sources said.

Six attempts to clinch a ceasefire in Yemen have foundered, including a three-day October truce that fell apart as soon as it went into force. It was designed to allow aid deliveries to millions of homeless and hungry Yemenis.

“There has been severe and heavy clashes on different fronts in Yemen recently, now with this ceasefire, there will be a decrease in the number of air strikes and heavy clashes but at the same time, inside the country, we are going to see the same heavy clashes going on despite the announcement of the ceasefire by the Saudi-led coalition,” Baaran Shiban, a London-based human rights worker, told Al Jazeera.

“Usually a ceasefire is supposed to be for humanitarian aids and to have access for us to areas suffered most by the clashes, but we are not sure whether this truce will hold,” Shiban said.

The United Nations says that more than 7,000 people have been killed and nearly 37,000 wounded in Yemen since the anti-Houthi coalition began its bombing campaign last year.

yemen civil war map
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies