Anwar Gargash: Hodeidah ceasefire is 'important first step' to end the Yemen conflict

UAE Minister of State warns that the path to peace 'remains bumpy' while US says 'peace is possible'

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Dr Anwar Gargash said on Friday that the outcome of United Nations-backed negotiations in Sweden between Yemen's government and the Houthi rebels is an important first step towards reaching a political solution to the conflict but "the road ahead remains bumpy".

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs reiterated the UAE's support for "the political and humanitarian process as well as plans for reconstruction" after Yemen's warring parties agreed to withdraw all forces from Hodeidah governorate and its vital harbours as part of a wider ceasefire agreement sealed on Thursday in Rimbo.

The key points from the agreement include:

  • Immediate ceasefire by warring parties in the city and Hodeidah's three key ports -  Hodeidah, Ras Issa and Al Saqef
  • Armed forces from both sides will withdraw from three ports within days
  • Hodeidah port city comes under control of local forces recognised by the Yemeni government. UN to play a leading role in port operations
  • Establishment of humanitarian corridors monitored by the UN

“The day after after Sweden brings hope to Yemen,” said Dr Gargash. “The road ahead remains bumpy but the significant breakthrough will make peace possible. The UN-led Yemeni-owned process is necessary to sort out contending aspirations.

“The Coalition’s fundamental argument that military pressure will bring political results and that Hodeidah is critical to the process has proven right. Now we must concentrate on building on Sweden.

“Longer term we seek a Yemen at peace with itself and its neighbours,” Dr Gargash added, stressing the need for an effective state, which would ultimately prevail over violence. This would lead to “a Yemen looking towards the future with confidence”.

Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, said that the negotiations showed that achieving peace in the country is possible.

He commended the government and rebel delegations for reaching agreement on a ceasefire and withdrawal of forces in the key port city of Hodeidah, exchange of prisoners and the opening humanitarian corridors to the embattled city of Taez, which were announced at the conclusion of the initial round of talks on Thursday.

"Although many details remain subject to further discussion, these consultations between the Republic of Yemen Government and the Houthis marked a pivotal first step," Mr Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to brief House members on Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the murder of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 13, 2018. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN

"Moving forward, all must continue to engage, de-escalate tensions, and cease ongoing hostilities. This is the best way to give these and future consultations a chance to succeed." he said.

"The work ahead will not be easy, but we have seen what many considered improbable begin to take shape. Peace is possible. The end of these consultations can be the beginning of a new chapter for Yemen."

The progress in peace efforts comes as the US administration faces increasing pressure from legislators over its assistance to the Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen's government against the Iran-backed rebels.

On Thursday, the Senate approved a largely symbolic resolution to end US backing for the coalition. The resolution cannot be debated in the House of Representatives before January, when members elected in last month's midterm elections will take their seats. It would probably be vetoed by President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly voiced support for Saudi Arabia.


Read more:

What we know about the Hodeidah ceasefire

A lonely fight for Yemen’s only female delegate to UN-backed talks


International pressure for peace in Yemen has been driven by concerns of a deepening  humanitarian crisis if fighting escalated in Hodeidah, which is the main entry point for shipments of food and humanitarian aid to the impoverished country.

The agreement in Sweden will allow UN supervision of Hodeidah's ports, as well as establish humanitarian corridors, and raised hopes of getting aid to about 22 million Yemenis in need, or four-fifths of the population. About 14 million are on the verge of starvation, according to the Red Cross.

A Redeployment Coordination Committee including both sides will oversee the ceasefire and withdrawal, according to the agreement. It will be chaired by the UN and report weekly to the UN Security Council.

Jeremy Hunt, the British Foreign Secretary, who recently visited the region to advocate peace efforts, welcomed the agreement but said the focus should be on a "lasting settlement".

The UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said the government and rebels have agreed to meet again in late January to discuss a political framework for peace, although a venue has yet to be decided.

The breakthrough in the peace negotiations was also welcomed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who described the talks in Sweden as "a crucial first step towards ending the conflict in Yemen, tackling the humanitarian emergency and addressing the sharp deterioration in the national economy".

Their statement also thanked Sweden for hosting the talks and the Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and UAE governments for "invaluable support and facilitation".

"In an admirable demonstration of international co-operation, representatives from over 20 countries worked in proximity with the special envoy during these consultations," the ambassadors said.

In a reminder of the tense situation on the ground, Houthi rebels attacked a village in southern Hodeidah just hours after the announcement in Sweden, forcing dozens of families to leave their homes.