Saudi-led coalition in Yemen announces Ramadan truce

Coalition says it will halt military action during Muslim fasting month, amid United Nations efforts to end crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi group in Yemen said late on Tuesday that it would halt military operations from Wednesday, following a United Nations’ call for a truce during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The UN has been working with the Saudi-led military alliance and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which have been at war since 2015, to secure a peace deal and alleviate a dire humanitarian crisis in the impoverished country.

The truce is the most significant step in peace efforts in more than three years as the international community has struggled to end a seven year conflict that has killed tens of thousands and left millions on the brink of starvation.

“The joint forces command of the coalition announces a halt of military operations inside Yemen starting Wednesday at 6 am,” Saudi state news agency SPA reported, citing a statement from the coalition’s spokesman Brigadier General Turki al-Malki.

The decision came amid international efforts to end the Yemeni crisis and reach a comprehensive political solution, SPA said.

The UN proposal calls for a temporary ceasefire during Ramadan in exchange for allowing fuel ships to dock at Houthi-held Hodeidah port and a small number of commercial flights to operate from Sanaa airport, sources familiar with the matter said. Ramadan begins this weekend.

As of March 27, four fuel ships were waiting off Hodeidah port, including a tanker stuck in the coalition holding area for nearly three months, UN data showed.

Smoke billows from a Saudi Aramco oil storage facility after an air attack by the Houthis in Jeddah earlier this week [Reuters]

Sanaa airport has been closed since 2015, when the coalition intervened after the Houthis ousted the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in 2014.

The coalition controls Yemen’s seas and air space.

The plan drafted by UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg is also backed by the United States and other Western powers, the two sources said.

Grundberg’s spokeswoman Ismini Palla declined to comment on details of the proposal, saying that the ceasefire was aimed at giving the Yemenis a much-needed break from violence.

“The Envoy continues his discussions with all sides and calls on all to engage constructively to reach urgently a truce,” she said in a statement.

Prisoner swap

Saudi Arabia hosted allied factions from Yemen’s war on Tuesday but the Houthis said they would not attend the talks, unless they were held in a neutral country.

In a statement last week, the Houthis described the UN initiative as positive.

Riyadh’s consultations are being held under the aegis of the Riyadh-based Gulf Cooperation Council and are expected to take more than a week.

The UN and the United States have since last year been trying to secure a permanent truce but differences over sequencing have thwarted efforts to reach a compromise between the warring sides.

The Houthis want the Saudi-led coalition to lift restrictions on sea ports and Sanaa airport first, while the Saudi alliance wants a simultaneous deal.

The Houthis on Saturday announced a unilateral move to suspend cross border attacks and ground offensive operations in Yemen for three days.

In recent months, the group has intensified missile and drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, causing a huge fire at a fuel storage tank in Jeddah. The Saudis and their allies retaliated on Sunday with air attacks on Hodeidah and Sanaa, where eight people were killed including five women and two children.

Both sides are also discussing a prisoner swap which could see hundreds of detainees freed, including 16 Saudis and a brother of Yemen’s president

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