Gulf Arab states are gathering for a summit on Tuesday on the war in Yemen that the country’s Houthi rebels are boycotting because its venue is in Saudi Arabia, their adversary in the devastating conflict.
The United Nations, diplomats, and others have pushed for another potential ceasefire to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, similar to efforts for a truce over the past few years.
Ramadan is likely to start this weekend, days after Tuesday’s summit called by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), depending on the sighting of the new crescent moon.
The GCC, a six-nation organisation including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, was to hold closed-door talks during the summit.
On Monday, the GCC’s Secretary-General Nayef al-Hajraf had a conversation with British ambassador to Yemen Richard Oppenheim and Yemeni officials allied with its internationally recognised but exiled government.
Those talks saw al-Hajraf, a Kuwaiti politician, discuss “efforts to stop the war and ways to achieve comprehensive peace to alleviate the human suffering witnessed by Yemeni people”, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
The Houthi rebels, meanwhile, have rejected the summit because of its being held in Saudi Arabia, as well as the continuing closure of Sanaa’s airport and restrictions on the country’s ports by the Saudi-led coalition that is waging war on the Houthi rebels.
The rebels, who over the weekend attacked an oil depot in the Saudi city of Jeddah ahead of a Formula One race there, have called for the talks to be held in a “neutral” country.
In a speech broadcast on the rebels’ Al Masirah television network on Monday, Yemeni rebel leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said the rebels “will spare no effort to confront the aggression and siege”, after the fighters declared a ceasefire two days earlier.
“You will regret missing out” on the ceasefire, he said, adding the coalition members would not be spared further strikes unless they “stop the aggression, lift the siege and end the occupation” of Yemen.
Since 2016, the coalition has enforced an air and sea blockade of rebel-held territory in Yemen.
‘Time to talk in calm atmosphere’
Meanwhile, Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdul-Salam wrote on Twitter: “The Saudi regime must prove its seriousness towards peace … by responding to a ceasefire, lifting the siege and expelling foreign forces from our country.
“Then peace will come and it is time to talk about political solutions in a calm atmosphere away from any military or humanitarian pressure.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke late Monday with Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. The State Department said the two “discussed support for the UN’s proposal for a Ramadan truce in Yemen and efforts to launch a new, more inclusive and comprehensive peace process”.
Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthi rebels swept into the capital, Sanaa, from their northwestern stronghold in the Arab world’s poorest country.
They then pushed into exile the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, elected in 2012 as the sole candidate after the long rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A Saudi-led coalition, including the United Arab Emirates, entered the war in March 2015 to try and restore Hadi’s government to power. But the conflict stretched into long bloody years, pushing Yemen to the brink of famine. The United Nations describes it as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the warfare, including many civilians.