Coronavirus: All sides back calls for ceasefire in war-torn Yemen

Aid agencies say the country's shattered healthcare system would be unable to cope with an outbreak of the disease

Powered by automated translation

Warring sides in Yemen's long conflict offered support on Thursday for the UN's call for a ceasefire to protect civilians from the coronavirus pandemic.

Yemen this week marked the fifth anniversary of the war aimed at restoring the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran areas.

Saudi Arabia, leading the coalition to restore Mr Hadi's government, the Yemen government and the rebels all welcomed an appeal from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Mr Guterres this week called for an "immediate global ceasefire" to help avert disaster for vulnerable people in conflict zones.

"The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war," he said.

"That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world."

The call was welcomed by the government.

"The government of Yemen welcomes the call of the UN chief for a ceasefire in the face of coronavirus, and to de-escalate acts of violence in the entire country," the Yemen government said.

"The political, economic and health situation requires halting all escalations to preserve people's lives and deal responsibly with this pandemic."

The Saudi-led coalition also backed the initiative.

Yemen's broken healthcare system has so far recorded no cases of coronavirus.

But aid groups warn that if it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic in a country already facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

"We have a global coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm an already broken healthcare system," said Tamuna Sabadze, country director at the International Rescue Committee.

Ms Sabadze said that Yemen was already battling a large cholera outbreak.

The Yemeni government has been rushing medical staff from across liberated areas to Aden to undergo training on how to identify and treat coronavirus patients.

But government officials admitted their medical services had little of the needed equipment due to years of fighting.

Saudi Arabia this week flew in vital supplies, the World Health Organisation said.

It included protective equipment for staff handling cases as well as drugs to try and help recovery.

Millions are dependent on humanitarian aid in Yemen, which has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

The group still controls most major urban centres despite years of war.

The Houthis, who are entering the sixth year of the conflict with more strategic gains in recent months in the country's north, also welcomed Mr Guterres's call to wind back fighting.

"The coalition's announcement is welcome. We are waiting for it to be applied practically," Mohammed Al Houthi, a senior Houthi official, tweeted late on Wednesday.

But the Yemen conflict has been punctuated by failed agreements, and negotiating a pause could be difficult.

None of the parties to the conflict spelt out any mechanism for the process.

The conflict has created a security vacuum in parts of the country, allowing Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS to resurface.

The UN Security Council on Thursday tweeted its thanks to the UAE for progress made against the extremists.

"The UAE has enabled huge gains against Aqap and ISIS in Yemen, and we are continuing these important efforts together," it said.

"After five years of conflict, it is more important now than ever for all parties to work towards a bright, peaceful and secure future for Yemen."

Yemen had experienced a lull in military action after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis launched talks late last year.

But Yemeni ministers were angered when the Houthis then launched a major offensive in the north and centre of the country.

They used the reduction in fighting under an earlier deal for the Red Sea city of Hodeidah as an opportunity to regroup and prepare.

Arab Coalition officials have repeatedly called for trust-building measures, accusing the Houthis of negotiating in bad faith.