Yemen’s Houthi group has announced a three-day truce and dangled the prospect of a “permanent” ceasefire if the Saudi-led coalition ends its operations against the impoverished country.
The statement came a day after a wave of drone and missile attacks hit targets across Saudi Arabia, including an oil plant near the Formula One race in Jeddah, triggering an inferno.
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On Saturday, at least seven people were reported to have been killed in air raids conducted by the Saudi-led coalition on Sanaa and Hodeidah.
The Houthis said the attack by the coalition hit a power plant, a fuel supply station and the state-run social insurance office in the capital.
Later, Houthi political leader Mahdi al-Mashat announced the suspension of missile and drone attacks and all military actions for a period of three days.
“This is a sincere invitation and practical steps to rebuild trust and take all the sides from the arena of talks to the arena of acts,” al-Mashat said.
“And we are ready to turn this declaration into a final and permanent commitment in the event that Saudi Arabia commits to ending the siege and stopping its raids on Yemen once and for all,” he added.
Hours after the Houthi ceasefire announcement, the Saudi-led coalition carried out air raids targeting Sanaa, the Houth-held capital, according to Saudi media.
According to Saudi Arabia’s Al Ekhbariya TV the raids, which were carried out around midnight, targeted “Houthi camps and strongholds” in the city.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday denounced attacks on civilian facilities in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
“The secretary-general strongly condemns the recent escalation of the conflict in Yemen including Friday’s aerial attacks on civilian and energy facilities in Saudi Arabia by the Houthis and the subsequent coalition airstrikes in Sana’a, reportedly killing eight civilians, including five children and two women,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
‘Deal might be close’
Annelle Sheline, a Middle East research fellow at the Quincy Institute in the US, said that the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels might be close to a long-term deal.
“I think Saudis would be wise to take the Houthis’ deal,” she told Al Jazeera from Washington, DC.
“The Houthis said that the three-day deal might continue if Saudis lift their blockade of Yemen, and stop their airstrikes,” Sheline added.
She said: “This would be great for the Saudis who said for a long time that they want to get out of this war. This could be an opportunity for them finally to stop pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into this war trying to destroy Yemen.”
Sheline added that air attacks by Houthi rebels receive far more attention than the Saudi-led coalition’s air raids, which are part of everyday life in Yemen.
The truce came on the seventh anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention to support Yemen’s government after the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital Sanaa in 2014.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, and left millions facing starvation and disease.
On Saturday, the coalition also gave the Houthis a three-hour deadline to withdraw weapons from Sanaa airport and from two ports on the Red Sea, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV reported, without specifying what time the deadline was.
The escalation came as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plans on hosting the warring sides for talks later this month.
The Houthis have rejected the Saudi capital Riyadh, where the GCC head office is, as a venue for the talks, saying they would not conduct negotiations in “enemy countries”.