The Saudi-led coalition has extended a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen by one month to support efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, even as fighting persists in the war-torn country.
The move came on Friday, after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels rejected a two-week ceasefire declared by the military coalition that ended on Thursday.
The coalition has decided to “extend the ceasefire for a month from Thursday”, its spokesman Turki al-Maliki was quoted as saying by the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
“The coalition reaffirms that there is still an opportunity to focus all efforts in order to reach a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire in Yemen,” he added.
Violence has continued in several provinces throughout the two-week unilateral ceasefire, raising fears that the war will grind on and shatter Yemen’s already weakened ability to fight the coronavirus.
The Houthis want a lifting of air and sea blockades imposed by the coalition to the regions they control before agreeing to a ceasefire, Reuters News Agency reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month called for ceasefires in conflicts across the world to allow countries to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Yemen has reported one case of the novel coronavirus, aid groups fear a catastrophic outbreak should the virus spread among an acutely malnourished population in a country without adequate testing capabilities.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthi rebel group overthrew the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
A Saudi-led military coalition in 2015 intervened in a bid to restore the government.
The conflict has pushed Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, to the brink of famine and devastated the country’s healthcare facilities.