Yemen’s warring parties agreed on Thursday to extend a two-month nationwide truce, the UN envoy to the country Hans Grundberg said.
Mr Grundberg has been holding talks with parties in the conflict for the past two months to agree a continuation of the nationwide ceasefire that has largely held and brought calm to Yemen.
The ceasefire started on the first day of Ramadan. Its extension was welcomed by Saudi Arabia and the US. The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed "appreciation" for Mr Grundberg's efforts.
President Joe Biden praised Saudi Arabia's "courageous leadership", after the agreement and said the US would remain "focused intensively on deterring threats to our friends and partners."
The Saudi Foreign Ministry said it affirmed its "keenness to support all efforts made by the United Nations to reach a sustainable political solution to the Yemeni crisis, and to lift the suffering of the Yemeni people to support the humanitarian, economic and development aspects, which will reflect on their security and stability," noting te kingdom's peace initiatives since March 2021, according to a statement on the Saudi Press Agency.
“For the past two months, Yemenis have experienced the tangible benefits of the truce,” Mr Grundberg said.
“Civilian casualties have dropped significantly, fuel deliveries through Hodeidah port have increased considerably and commercial flights resumed to and from Sanaa International Airport after almost six years of closure.”
Since mid-May more than a thousand passengers have flown from Sanaa to Amman and Cairo. Seven commercial flights have taken off from the Yemeni capital, a UN official told The National.
Wednesday's flight to Cairo was the first commercial plane to land in the Egyptian capital, and the seventh to take off from Sanaa. The flight carried 77 Yemeni passengers and returned from Cairo to Sanaa airport carrying 145 Yemeni passengers.
Part of the truce renewal agreement is lifting the Houthi siege on Taez province.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday welcomed the extension of a UN-brokered truce between Yemen's warring parties, saying that Saudi Arabia had shown "leadership"by endorsing and enacting its terms.
The president said Oman, Egypt and Jordan had also played roles in enabling the truce process.
Representatives from the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the internationally-recognised government have been meeting face-to-face under UN auspices for the first time in years to make progress towards opening roads in Taez and other provinces, as well as introducing nationwide military de-escalation mechanisms, Mr Grundberg said.
“In order for the truce to fully deliver on its potential, additional steps will need to be taken, particularly on the matters of road openings and commercial flight operations,” he said.
But a provision for the rebels to ease their siege of Yemen's third-largest city Taez has yet to be implemented, to the anger of the government, which is demanding roads to the city be opened.
For years, the rebels have taken control of the economy in Taez and are keeping civilians boxed in using checkpoints and roadblocks.
Humanitarian agencies say people who need urgent medical assistance have often died on their way to Aden or Sanaa because of the disruption.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said the truce extension represented a “serious commitment to end senseless war”.
“The last two months have shown that peaceful solutions to the conflict are a real option. We hope this extension of the truce will allow for further progress on the reopening of roads linking cities and regions, allow more displaced people to return to their homes, and ensure humanitarian aid can reach people who have been out of reach because of the fighting,” said NRC's Yemen country director Erin Hutchinson.
Mr Grundberg said he would continue to engage with the parties “to implement and consolidate all elements of the truce in full, and move towards a sustainable political settlement to the conflict that meets the legitimate aspirations and demands of Yemeni women and men”.
However, humanitarian needs in Yemen remain high despite improvements since the truce, with about 19 million people expected to suffer hunger this year, including more than 160,000 who will face famine-like conditions.
“Aid agencies need $4.28 billion to assist 17.3 million people across the country this year,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday.
Only 26 per cent of that amount has been given, he said, and urged donors to pledge money and to redeem their pledges.
The Houthi rebels seized control of Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention to support the internationally-recognised government the following year.
Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the war.