Yemen’s warring parties close to Sanaa airport deal, sources say

Houthis say verbal agreement reached, government says deal close but not yet agreed

CORRECTION / Representatives of the Huthi rebel delegation (L) and representatives of the Yemeni government's delegation (R) pose for a picture with representatives from the office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen and the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) during the ongoing peace talks on Yemen held at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, north of Stockholm, Sweden, December 11, 2018. Yemen's government and rival rebels announced plans for a mass prisoner swap, exchanging at least 15,000 names, as UN-brokered talks on ending the country's war entered their seventh day. / AFP / POOL / Claudio BRESCIANI
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The warring sides in Yemen are close to an agreement on the United Nations’ proposal for reopening Sanaa airport, according to government and Houthi sources in attendance at peace talks in Sweden.

Houthi member Abdel Al Hanash told The National that a verbal agreement had been reached for opening the airport in the rebel-held capital to allow the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid into the country.

Members of the government delegation would not confirm that verbal agreement but said there had been significant movement in negotiations over the airport’s status.

"We held meetings today on the issue of Sanaa airport, there is some progress made on this issue," Othman Al Mujali, Yemen's Minister of Agriculture, told The National on Wednesday.

Another government official said no agreement on the airport had been officially agreed or rejected, as the Houthis had claimed, but said the parties “are close to announcing an agreement on these three issues: prisoner exchange, economy and Sanaa airport”.

The issues that remain contentious are “proposals on a political framework, Hodeidah and Taiz,” the official said, in reference to the two Yemeni cities.

Previous attempts to reopen the rebel-held airport in the Yemeni capital have faltered because Houthis rejected a demand by the government to inspect all flights leaving Sanaa at airports it controls in Aden and Sayoun - a condition that officials say had not been waived.

But progress on the issue appears to have accelerated at ongoing peace talks in Sweden seen as crucial to ending the three-year civil war. Reopening the airport is one of the main objectives of talks in the rural Swedish town of Rimbo that have brought both sides together for the first time since 2016.

A member of the rebel delegation to talks also confirmed that the discussions had been positive.

Rana Ghanem, a member of the Yemeni government's delegation to talks, said she "predicts that there will be an agreement [by Thursday] on reopening Sanaa airport as a domestic airport".

Ms Ghanem said that the government is still demanding that all flights stop at a government-held airport for inspections before flying in or out of Sanaa.

The Houthis were due to hold a briefing on the agreement overnight.

The UN presented both parties with draft agreements on the reopening of Sanaa airport, a political framework and the status of Hodeidah city and its harbour, a UN spokeswoman said earlier.

The spokeswoman said that she hoped rival parties would respond to the draft proposals by last night.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths told reporters on Monday that “tangible agreements will be announced by the end of this round”.

Rebels and the government have so far agreed on a prisoner exchange deal which they hope will be executed next month. The agreement over Sanaa's airport may be the last deal brokered between warring parties before talks resume again in early 2019.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made on the issue of a ceasefire for Hodeidah city and its vital port.


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Draft proposals have been submitted to the two delegations over the past week. None had found consensus before last night.

The government says it will not accept an agreement unless rebels surrender their arms, withdraw from Hodeidah and the government reinstates full and sole control over the port city.

"We have presented our proposal but the issue is not in our hands, we have no authority over this case because the rebels are the ones who are in control of Hodediah," Mr Al Mujali said.

"We proposed that government control is restored over all of Yemen and that we will be in control of all governmental institutions. This is what must and will happen," he added.

Meanwhile, The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, an international group tracking Yemen's civil war, said on Wednesday the conflict has killed more than 60,000 people since 2016. The figures do not include the last few months of 2014 when Yemen's Houthi rebels captured the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country's north.