Yemen truce efforts intensify as Saudi-led coalition eases shipping restrictions

Government sources say a road map for extended ceasefire agreed upon ahead of Saudi-Houthi talks

A Yemeni fighter backed by the Saudi-led coalition during clashes with Houthi rebels near Marib, western Yemen, in 2021. AP
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Plans are taking shape for an extended truce in Yemen, following talks between the head of the country's presidential council and Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister, a government source told The National on Friday.

This came as Yemen's internationally recognised government announced that the Saudi-led coalition that backs it has lifted wartime restrictions on shipments to the import-reliant country.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa in 2014. The Saudi-led coalition intervened at the invitation of the government the following year.

“Following a meeting between the Presidential Leadership Council and Saudi Defence Minister Khalid bin Salman on Thursday, an agreement was made on a road map for political peace,” said the source, who was privy to the talks held in Riyadh.

“Phase one includes the opening of sea, land and air ports, securing the Saudi borders, paying public servant salaries, unifying banks and swapping all prisoners,” the source said.

“The second phase includes Yemeni-Yemeni talks, and phase three is a comprehensive political process leading to elections under the UN's supervision.”

Yemeni Deputy Youth Minister Hamzah Al Kamaly confirmed to The National that a Saudi delegation would be travelling to Sanaa for further talks.

“There have been two other trips before. This one is to cement the truce,” he said.

He said a truce agreement would be for at least six months, and possibly until the end of the year. It would also include unification of the government's and Houthi-controlled central banks, he said.

Talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis have reportedly been taking place for some time. Hopes of a breakthrough were raised by the kingdom's rapprochement with the Houthis' backers Iran in March.

The Houthis and the government agreed in UN-hosted talks last month to a prisoner swap scheduled to begin on April 11 that will include prominent figures in the pre-war government.

“The talks have been taking place for years, really, ever since the Stockholm Agreement of 2018. But the recent Saudi-Houthi talks helped achieve this exchange,” said Hamed Ghalib from Yemen's National Resistance armed group, which is involved in the negotiations with the Houthis.

A UN-brokered truce last year ended in October, six months after it began.

While the two sides did not return to full-scale conflict, Houthi attacks on Yemeni oil ports have affected the government's biggest source of foreign currency.

With momentum building for a new ceasefire, the government announced that the Saudi-led coalition had lifted restrictions on imports to Yemen's southern ports after eight years.

Commercial ships would be allowed to dock directly in southern ports, including Aden, and all goods would be cleared, with some exceptions, the government said on Thursday.

This follows the easing of restrictions in February on commercial goods entering the Houthi-held western port of Hodeidah, the country's main seaport.

Abu Bakr Abeed, deputy head of Yemen's Chambers of Commerce, told Reuters ships would not have to stop at the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah for security checks for the first time since 2015.

Mr Abeed said more than 500 types of goods would be allowed back in Yemen through southern ports — including fertilisers and batteries — after they were removed from a list of banned products.

The Saudi government did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

According to a UN report, the conflict in Yemen had claimed 377,000 lives by the end of the 2021 — through both direct and indirect impact.

Updated: April 07, 2023, 6:03 PM