Yemen truce deadline passes without renewal

Temporary ceasefire expired on Sunday despite attempts by UN envoy Hans Grundberg to extend it

Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen claim the government is not honouring its obligations under the ceasefire arrangements. EPA
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The UN's efforts to extend a six-month truce between Yemen's government and Iran-backed Houthi rebels appear to have ended in failure as the deadline expired on Sunday night without word of a renewed agreement.

The ceasefire, which went into effect at 7pm on April 2 and was extended twice for two-month periods, brought relative calm across the country after seven years of war.

The UN's Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg visited the rebel-held capital Sanaa for talks on Wednesday and left without making a comment. But on Saturday, the Houthis declared the ceasefire to be at “a dead end”.

“Over the past six months, we haven't seen any serious willingness to address humanitarian issues as a top priority,” the Houthis said.

Mr Grundberg met the head of Yemen's Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al Alimi, in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday just hours before the truce was to expire.

The government's Saba News Agency said Mr Alimi discussed with the UN envoy “opportunities to extend the truce, with the Houthi militias' continued intransigence towards all efforts aimed at alleviating the human suffering of the Yemeni people”.

Mr Alimi said the government remained committed to achieving peace and condemned the Houthis' resistance to efforts to stop the bloodshed despite its initiatives to ease “suffering throughout the country, including those under the force of the Houthi militia's control”, Saba reported.

Yemen's war between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition since 2014 has left hundreds of thousands dead.

It has created what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The warring sides largely observed the truce, which also allowed for some humanitarian measures. Each side accuses the other of failing to live up to their commitments under the original ceasefire agreement.

Humanitarian agencies used the ceasefire to step up relief efforts for civilians who have been impoverished and displaced by the conflict.

The truce also resulted in an increased flow of fuel through the rebel-held port of Hodeidah, easing widespread shortages, and a resumption of flights out of Sanaa airport. However, the rebels refused to lift their siege of Yemen's third city of Taez to allow civilians there to enter and leave freely.

One of the sticking points over a third renewal of the truce was the rebels' demand that the government pay the salaries and pensions of civil servants in areas under its control.

The government said it was willing to do so according to the payrolls before September 2014, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and began to hire thousands of people to work in de facto “government institutions”.

Amid mounting concern over renewed fighting in Yemen, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Saturday with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud to discuss the expiration of the truce.

Mr Blinken “welcomed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to extending the truce and its efforts to help secure an expansion of the truce with its life-saving benefits for millions of Yemenis”, said his spokesman Ned Price.

Mr Blinken said benefits of the expanded truce would include paying teachers, nurses and other civil servants who have not been paid in years, expanding flights from Sanaa, opening roads in Taez and elsewhere, and ensuring the continued flow of fuel.

On Friday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Yemen's parties to renew an existing truce and to expand it.

“I strongly urge the Yemeni parties not only to renew but also to expand the truce’s terms and duration, in line with the proposal presented to them by my special envoy, Hans Grundberg,” Mr Guterres said.

“Over the past six months, [the truce] has delivered tangible benefits and much needed relief to the Yemeni people, including a significant reduction in violence and civilian casualties countrywide, an increase in fuel deliveries through [Hodeidah] port, and the resumption of international commercial flights to and from Sanaa for the first time in almost six years.”

Mr Guterres called for an agreement that would reopen roads in Taez and other governorates, and the payment of civil service salaries, which would further improve the day-to-day life of Yemenis.

Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Saturday that Yemen must not return to conflict, calling on the Houthis to return to negotiations before the expiry of the agreement.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 5:12 AM