The warring sides in Yemen’s seven-year conflict have agreed to a two-month nationwide truce, starting with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the United Nations envoy has said.
The UN-brokered deal on Friday between a Saudi-led coalition and the rebel Houthi group aligned with Iran is the most significant step yet towards ending a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions into hunger. The last coordinated cessation of hostilities nationwide was during peace talks in 2016.
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UN special envoy Hans Grundberg said the two-month truce would come into effect at 7pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Saturday and could be renewed with the consent of the parties.
“The parties accepted to halt all offensive military air, ground and maritime operations inside Yemen and across its borders; they also agreed for fuel ships to enter into Hodeidah ports and commercial flights to operate in and out of Sanaa airport to predetermined destinations in the region,” he said in a statement.
‘Much-needed relief to Yemen’
Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from UN headquarters in New York, said that the truce will bring much-needed relief to Yemen after seven years of war.
“Not only has this conflict killed tens of thousands of Yemenis, but also pushed millions more into hunger,” said Al Jazeera’s correspondent.
The UN and United States envoys had been trying since last year to engineer a permanent ceasefire needed to revive political negotiations stalled since late 2018 to end the conflict.
The Saudi-backed Yemeni government, which the Houthis forced out of the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, said earlier it would facilitate arrangements for the release of prisoners, opening Sanaa airport and allowing fuel vessels into Houthi-held Hodeidah port.
“We immediately announce the release of the first two fuel ships through Hodeidah port,” Foreign Minister Ahmed Bin Mubarak said on Twitter.
On Friday, in a Twitter post, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the spokesman and chief negotiator of the Houthis, welcomed the truce.
Another senior Houthi official, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said on Twitter that its “credibility would be in implementation”.
The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in March 2015 against the Houthis, controls Yemen’s seas and air space.
‘The ceasefire must be adhered to’
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the truce and expressed hope for a “political process” to bring peace to the country.
“You must take that momentum in order to make sure that this truce is fully respected and that it is renewed and … that a true political process is launched,” Guterres told reporters.
“This demonstrates that even when things look impossible when there is the will to compromise, peace becomes possible.”
The US welcomed the ceasefire announcement. “The ceasefire must be adhered to, and as I have said before, it is imperative that we end this war,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.
Iran’s foreign ministry on Saturday expressed hope that it could be the first step towards a permanent stop to fighting and finding a political solution to the war.
Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh added in a statement that Iran also hopes the truce would improve the humanitarian situation in Yemen and facilitate a “full exchange of prisoners” between the warring parties.
The warring parties are also discussing a prisoner swap under which hundreds from both sides would be freed, including 16 Saudis, three Sudanese and a brother of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The last major prisoner swap, involving approximately 1,000 detainees, took place in 2020 as part of confidence-building steps agreed at the last peace talks held in December 2018.
‘Both sides ready to look for a solution’
The UN has long warned that the war in Yemen has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Though exact figures are difficult to gather, the UN estimates that more than 377,000 people have died due to the conflict as of late 2021.
Dave Des Roches, a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Gulf International Forum, said both sides are ready to look for a solution.
“I think it’s just strategic exhaustion, the Houthis for a long time have felt that their success was inevitable, but they had a huge setback in Marib [city], which has been besieged for over a year…,” Des Roches told Al Jazeera.
“At the same time, you see an expansion into Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi…I think both sides realised, this war is not going the way we want to, maybe we’re going to have to settle for half a loaf.”
In a report published late last year, the United Nations Development Programme said roughly 60 percent of deaths were the result of indirect causes, including famine and preventable diseases. The rest were caused by combat and air raids. The report noted that children account for 70 percent of deaths.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), some 16.2 million Yemenis, or about 45 percent of the total population, are food insecure.