Yemen’s capital readies for commercial flights as truce raises hopes of lasting peace

Fuel ships are docking and Taez roads could reopen amid signs that a ceasefire is largely holding

UN vehicles at Sanaa'a closed airport this week. There are hopes commercial flights could return to the capital after a pause of six years. Photo: EPA

UN peace envoy Hans Grundberg on Wednesday said a truce between rebel, government and foreign forces was largely holding in Yemen and that commercial flights would resume to the capital Sanaa soon.

Mr Grundberg spoke with reporters at Sanaa airport after three days of talks with Houthi rebel leaders. His first such visit to the city since he started work eight months ago raised hopes of progress on a deal to end years of conflict.

A truce that went into effect on April 2 had been marred by some “reported violations” but there was a “significant overall reduction in hostilities and no confirmed reports of air strikes or cross-border attacks”, Mr Grundberg said.

The ceasefire had allowed for a “steady flow of ships” delivering much-needed fuel to rebel-held Hodeidah port and talks on reopening long-closed roads in Taez and elsewhere, the Swedish diplomat added.

“Intense work and preparations are ongoing for the opening of Sanaa airport for the first commercial flight in six years,” he said, raising the hopes of Sanaa residents seeking medical treatment abroad.

Mr Grundberg’s visit to Sanaa was his first to the Houthi-run capital since he was appointed in August because the rebels refused to receive him. He had met frequently with chief Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdul-Salam in Muscat.

Also on Wednesday, the UN Security Council released a statement backing Mr Grundberg’s efforts and President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi's recent decision to transfer his powers to a leadership council for the war-ravaged country.

Security Council members called the new council an “important step towards stability and an inclusive Yemeni-led and owned political settlement” and urged the Houthis to work towards a “comprehensive ceasefire and to negotiate an inclusive political solution” to end the war.

The 15-nation body in New York also thanked the UAE and Saudi Arabia for a $3 billion economic support package and a $300 million Saudi donation for aid in a country where years of fighting have pushed millions into hunger and poverty.

The two-month truce implemented this month was the first nationwide ceasefire in six years in Yemen’s civil war that erupted in 2014, when Iran-backed Houthis seized Sanaa and pushed the internationally recognised government into exile.

A Saudi-led coalition joined the war in early 2015 to try to restore that government.

Breaches of the truce have been reported around the central city of Marib, where the government accused the rebels of attacking their positions.

The Houthis had tried for more than a year to capture energy-rich Marib from government forces, but their efforts were dashed in recent months owing to growing coalition support for pro-government forces.

The war has claimed more than 370,000 lives, directly and indirectly, according to UN figures, and caused widespread suffering, with four fifths of Yemen’s 30 million people needing handouts.

The UN refugee agency this week thanked Japan for a $4.5m donation to help displaced Yemenis.

The agency's envoy to Yemen, Maya Ameratunga, said it would help the 30,000 civilians who were "torn away from their homes and loved ones" by fighting in the first three months of this year.

"The support of the international community to save lives, alleviate suffering, and give a sense of dignity and hope for the displaced remain imperative," she added.

UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg gives a news conference prior to his departure from Sanaa airport after three-day talks with Houthi officials on Wednesday. EPA
Updated: April 13, 2022, 6:22 PM