Saudi-led coalition prefers final Yemen settlement to ‘short’ truce

The comments of Brig Gen Ahmed Al Assiri come a day after a Houthi rebel leader proposed a truce on the country’s border with Saudi Arabia in exchange for a halt to Saudi-led air strikes on his forces.
Yemeni pro-government forces fire towards Houthi rebels positioned in the hills of the Sharija region on the borders of Taez and Lahj provinces on September 25, 2016. Saleh Al Obeidi / AFP
Yemeni pro-government forces fire towards Houthi rebels positioned in the hills of the Sharija region on the borders of Taez and Lahj provinces on September 25, 2016. Saleh Al Obeidi / AFP

RIYADH // The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen to restore the country’s internationally-recognised government would prefer a broad political settlement to a ceasefire, its spokesman said on Monday.

“I think now it’s not a question of talking about a ceasefire,” said Brigadier General Ahmed Al Assiri.

Late on Sunday a Houthi rebel leader, Saleh Al Sammad, proposed a truce on the country’s border with Saudi Arabia in exchange for a halt to Saudi-led air strikes on his forces.

Brig Gen Al Assiri said the coalition welcomes “any effort to have a genuine political settlement” under a peace initiative proposed last month by US secretary of state John Kerry.

This is preferable to a “short ceasefire without any control, without any observation”, he said, adding that “the Saudi border is not and will not be the subject of any discussion”.

Previous truces in the war have collapsed.

After talks in Saudi Arabia with his Gulf counterparts, Mr Kerry outlined a plan which offers the Houthis participation in government in exchange for an end to violence and a surrender of weapons.

The Iran-backed Houthis are allied with soldiers loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“If they [the Houthis] want to have a ceasefire they know what they have to do,” Brig Gen Al Assiri said, referring to the terms of the Kerry plan which were to be refined under United Nations mediation among the parties.

The initiative calls for a rebel withdrawal from seized areas including the capital, Sanaa, which they have held since late 2014.

Houthi leader Mr Al Sammad heads a new council that was appointed in August by the rebels and their allies to run Yemen – a move that led to the suspension of UN-brokered peace talks.

His council is not recognised by the international community.

On Sunday Mr Al Sammad called for an end to Saudi “aggression” and the lifting of a coalition blockade in exchange for “an end to combat operations on the border and to [rebel] missile launches into Saudi territory”.

The coalition, which intervened in Yemen in March last year after the Houthis overran much of the country, has also been providing government troops with air cover in their war against extremist groups.

Local Al Qaeda and ISIL affiliates have taken advantage of Yemen’s chaos to increase their reach in the south of the country.

On Monday Yemeni forces killed a suspected local Al Qaeda chief in a clash at his house in the southern province of Abyan, security officials said.

A Yemeni soldier also died and another was wounded after troops stormed the residence of Abdullah Hubaibat on the outskirts of the town of Loder. Two other militant suspects were wounded in the fight, while a third was arrested.

Government forces backed by the coalition entered Abyan’s capital, Zinjibar, last month and recaptured other towns across the province.

The United States has carried out numerous drone strikes against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operatives in Yemen.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 26, 2016 04:00 AM

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