End of Yemen’s truce leaves civilians afraid dark days are back

The truce lasted for six months and expired on October 2, with efforts to renew it unsuccessful so far.

People sit in front of houses in the old city of Sanaa, Yemen June 15, 2022. Picture taken June 15, 2022.
Sanaa has been free of air strikes during the truce, which began in April and ended on October 2 [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

Sanaa, Yemen – Yemenis have had years to get used to the political and economic crises that have rocked their lives, even before the outbreak of the war in the country in 2014.

So, when it became apparent earlier this week that the United Nations-brokered six-month truce that had significantly reduced hostilities on the country’s front lines would not immediately be renewed, residents of Sanaa, the country’s rebel-held capital, immediately resorted to tried and trusted coping mechanisms.

Petrol stations were full; fuel supplies may be stable, but Yemenis have learned the hard way that they have to be prepared.

“I wasn’t worried about petrol throughout the ceasefire as it was available in all petrol stations,” Mokhtar Saleh, a 25-year-old minibus driver in Sanaa, told Al Jazeera. “But when I heard about the failure of the truce renewal, I darted to the station to fill up my bus.”

Saleh was worried. No fuel means no work. And in a country like Yemen, already impoverished before the conflict started, there are few safety nets.

“If the petrol tank of my vehicle is empty, my four children and I will go to bed with empty stomachs,” he said. “This is my sole source of income, and the resumption of the war will bring us hunger.

“The continued failure of the attempts to extend the truce is horrible, and is a bad sign for us.”

The truce expired on October 2 and has yet to be renewed, despite efforts by the UN to sign parties in the conflict on to a new deal.

Fuel imports into Hodeidah, the main port of entry for fuel and other goods into Yemen, had increased since the start of the ceasefire in April, positively affecting the livelihoods of Yemenis and stabilising the price of essential goods.

During the ceasefire, the number of civilian deaths declined by 60 percent, and displacement nearly halved, according to the UN.

The main dividing line in Yemen’s civil war is between the Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, and Iran-allied Houthi rebels. However, other groups are also involved in the conflict, including United Arab Emirates-backed separatists in the south.

While a truce significantly reduced fighting in the country, the UN has been unable to get the government and the rebels any closer to a lasting peace deal that would end the conflict.

Brief calm

The six months of relative calm allowed some Yemenis to dream of a better future.

Basheer Nasser opened a bakery in Sanaa two years ago but had struggled due to a shortage of cooking gas.

“I used to close the bakery when the cooking gas was unavailable or highly expensive,” Nasser told Al Jazeera. “I also bought firewood to manage the shortage. It made me consider giving up on this business.”

That all changed after the truce began in April.

“Days after the truce declaration, my business improved,” said Nasser. “It was easier to find and buy cooking gas at a reasonable price. I have not closed my bakery for even one single day since then, and profits have been good.”

Yunis Saleh, a grocery store owner in the al-Thawra district of the city, reasoned that the truce had boosted businesses – the flow of goods had increased, and prices had not risen.

“The conflict makes people unwilling to spend because they fear more rainy days ahead,” said Saleh. “Only those who are wealthy or war profiteers see no value in the truce.”

While there has been no major uptick in violence since the truce expired, the Houthi rebels have threatened to attack oil companies operating in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen. Houthi military spokesman, Yahya Saree, said the group was ready for another round of fighting.

Meanwhile, the Yemeni government is adamant that fighting is the only way to defeat the Houthis.

On Monday, after the truce had expired, the military’s chief of staff, Sagheer bin Aziz, said that “military force alone” would end the war, and establish peace in the country.

Efforts by the UN and the United States, among others, have continued to renew the truce.

While the Yemeni government has indicated its support for a continuation of the ceasefire, despite frustration at the continued Houthi blockade of Yemen’s third-largest city Taiz, the Houthis, according to the US special envoy for Yemen, have not.

Instead, the Houthis have made “maximalist and impossible” demands, Tim Lenderking said.

The Houthis, for their part, said that discussions had reached a “dead end”.

For now, some of the main gains of the truce, such as the increase in fuel shipments to Hodeidah, and flights to Sanaa International Airport resuming, have held.

But that does not mean that civilians in Sanaa are not worried that heavy fighting, and the Saudi air attacks that used to hit their city, might return.

“The Houthis are confident in their military abilities, and demanded tough conditions for the truce to be extended,” Saleh, the minibus driver, said. “They want to win militarily. But what we hope for is for weapons to be fully silenced in Yemen.”

Source: Al Jazeera