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Yemen factions back two-month truce: UN

The warring sides in Yemen’s seven-year conflict have for the first time in years agreed a truce, which would also allow fuel imports into Houthi-held areas and some flights operating from Sanaa airport, the United Nations envoy says.

The UN-brokered deal between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi group aligned with Iran is the most significant step yet towards ending a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions into hunger.

The last co-ordinated cessation of hostilities across the country was during peace talks in 2016.

UN special envoy Hans Grundberg said the two-month truce would come into effect on Saturday at 7pm local time and could be renewed with consent of the parties.

Saturday marks the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The aim of this truce is to give Yemenis a necessary break from violence, relief from the humanitarian suffering and most importantly hope that an end to this conflict is possible,” Grundberg said in a statement, adding he would press for a permanent ceasefire.

Yemen’s economy and basic services including health have collapsed, leaving 80 per cent of the population of about 30 million reliant on aid.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the truce “must be a first step to ending Yemen’s devastating war,” urging the parties to build on the opportunity to “resume an inclusive and comprehensive Yemeni political process”.

The deal stipulates halting offensive military operations, including cross-border attacks, and allowing fuel ships to enter Houthi-held Hodeidah port and commercial flights in and out of the airport in the capital Sanaa “to predetermined destinations in the region”.

Grundberg said the parties agreed to discuss opening roads in Taiz, effectively under siege, and other Yemeni regions.

The UN and US envoys had been trying since last year to engineer a permanent ceasefire needed to revive political negotiations stalled since late 2018 to end the conflict.

The Saudi-backed Yemeni government, which the Houthis ousted from the capital Sanaa in late 2014, said earlier it would facilitate arrangements for release of prisoners, opening Sanaa airport and allowing fuel vessels into Houthi-held Hodeidah port.

“We immediately announce the release of the first two fuel ships through Hodeidah port,” Foreign Minister Ahmed Bin Mubarak said on Twitter.

Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam welcomed the truce.

Another senior Houthi official, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said on Twitter its “credibility would be in implementation”.

A copy of the truce deal seen by Reuters, and reported by Houthi-run Al Masirah TV, said 18 fuel vessels would be given access during the truce period and two flights a week would be operated from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt.

The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in March 2015 against the Houthis, controls Yemen’s seas and air space.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the truce but said it must be adhered to and he urged negotiators to “undertake the hard and necessary work” to reach an enduring peace.

The parties are also discussing a prisoner swap under which hundreds from both sides would be freed, including 16 Saudis, three Sudanese and a brother of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The last major prisoner swap, involving about 1000 detainees, took place in 2020 as part of confidence-building steps agreed at the last peace talks held in December 2018.

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