UK’s Raab urges Yemen factions to seize ‘opportunity for peace’

Saudi-led coalition forces began two-week ceasefire on Thursday amid fears of a potential coronavirus outbreak

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 09, 2019, a Shiite Huthi rebel fighter stands guard during a gathering to celebrate the birth of Islam's Prophet Mohammed in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. HealthvirusYemenSaudiUAEconflictUS The US on April 9, 2020, urged Yemen's Huthi rebels to reciprocate a ceasefire by Washington's ally Saudi Arabia, which said it would pause attacks due to the coronavirus pandemic. / AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAIS
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UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Thursday called on the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels to help secure peace for Yemen, as the Saudi-led coalition began a two-week ceasefire amid fears of the coronavirus.

As yet, Yemen has reported no cases of Covid-19.

Mr Raab called Thursday’s unilateral ceasefire “an important step towards the permanent ceasefire Yemenis need”.

He urged the Houthis and the Yemeni government to “engage constructively” with peace proposals.

“We must grasp this precious opportunity for peace in Yemen,” Mr Raab said.

The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, earlier tweeted that he hoped the Houthis would “rise to the occasion”.

“The Covid-19 crisis eclipses everything," Dr Gargash said. "The international community must step up efforts and work together to protect the Yemeni people."

The coalition said the ceasefire was intended to enable talks sponsored by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths for a permanent truce.

It was motivated in part to avoid a potentially devastating outbreak of the coronavirus in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

The Houthis have yet to announce whether they will join the Saudi-led coalition in what would be the first major breakthrough in peace efforts since late 2018, when they met in Sweden for talks mediated by Mr Griffiths.

But Yasser Al Houri, secretary of the Houthis' political council, said the Houthis were reluctant to believe the coalition.

Mr Griffiths on Thursday thanked parties in the country’s conflict for their support so far for his initiative to secure a lasting peace.

He said he hoped “the spirit of co-operation and compromise will prevail as negotiations proceed".

The UN is trying to bring the parties together by video conference to formally conclude the agreements from Stockholm, Mr Griffiths said.

They included a truce and withdrawal from the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, and a prisoner-swap deal to build confidence.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington welcomed the ceasefire announcement and urged the Houthis to respond in kind.

Mr Pompeo called on all parties to co-operate with Mr Griffiths' efforts for talks.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has called for an “immediate global ceasefire” amid the coronavirus pandemic, urged the Yemeni government and Houthis to engage in the talks "in good faith and without preconditions".

Mr Guterres asked the parties to agree to a nationwide truce mechanism, humanitarian and economic confidence-building steps and a resumption of negotiations on a political settlement.