Yemen breakthrough looks closer than ever

Concessions and confidence-building measures have created momentum ahead of Sweden talks

epa07186872 The leader of the Houthi Revolutionary Committee Mohammed Ali al-Houthi leaves after his meeting with UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths in Sana'a, Yemen, 24 November 2018. According to reports, UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths has said that the United Nations had agreed to negotiate with Yemen's Houthi insurgent movement regarding the UN taking a lead role in jointly operating the Houthis-held Red Sea port of Hodeidah, the main port of the war-torn Arab country.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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As opposing sides prepare to sit down together for talks for the first time in Yemen’s three-year war, a breakthrough in the conflict feels closer than ever before.

The past few weeks have been filled with frantic preparations, negotiations and compromise.

Numerous concessions have been made; in the latest gesture, legitimate president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and the Houthis promised to swap thousands of prisoners, 50 injured Houthi rebels were being flown to Oman for medical treatment and a delegation of Houthis were yesterday on their way to Sweden for long-awaited talks.

Such measures have built confidence in the peace process and show a commitment to a political rather than a military solution.

They are cause for optimism ahead of negotiations that, according to UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, could provide "a sustainable, Yemeni-led political solution" to the crisis.

Other obstacles to peace are being systematically dismantled too. On Monday, Iranian state TV reported that Tehran had agreed to back the talks, a significant development, given that the support, backing and arms handed to the Houthis by Iran has exacerbated the war.

The Saudi-led coalition and the US have repeatedly pledged their commitment to the UN process. With willingness on all sides to secure a non-violent settlement, the foundations for peace have been laid.

The parties must now build on that with constructive dialogue in Sweden.

Naturally, an end to fighting is far from guaranteed in a war that has reportedly killed more than 80,000 children through starvation and now threatens 8.4 million Yemenis – half the population – with the same fate.

The port city of Hodeidah, a vital lifeline for food and medicine, remains under tight Houthi control. And at the previous round of talks, painstakingly arranged in Geneva in September by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, the Houthis failed to attend at all, instead retreating to their Sanaa stronghold.

But in recent weeks, fighting has abated amid renewed peace efforts and with new confidence-building measures in place, there is fresh hope for a resolution.

Mr Griffiths nevertheless faces an uphill battle to usher in a lasting political solution.

The future of Sanaa, formerly the seat of Yemen’s legitimate government and now occupied by the Houthis, remains unclear.

But on the table in Sweden is the opening of Sanaa airport, a ceasefire in Hodeidah, ending coalition airstrikes and halting Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.

Each of these conditions presents its own complications but after these positive developments, there is fresh momentum propelling all sides to the negotiating table.

The people of Yemen need an enduring solution to end their suffering. Much rests on what happens in Sweden to set the country on the road to peace.