World

Saudi-led coalition's announced ceasefire in Yemen raises doubts

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen announced late Tuesday that it will observe a unilateral ceasefire in the yearslong war, a move it said is aimed at facilitating political negotiations in the kingdom which Yemen's Houthi rebels are boycotting.

Move meant to facilitate peace talks, but Houthi rebels pledge to boycott summit

Service members loyal to Yemen's Houthi rebels take part in a military parade in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen announced late Tuesday that it will observe a unilateral ceasefire in the yearslong war, a move it said is aimed at facilitating political negotiations in the kingdom which Yemen's Houthi rebels are boycotting.

The coalition said it would cease hostilities in the brutal war starting at 6 a.m. local time on Wednesday, seeking to create a fertile environment for political talks and to jumpstart peacemaking efforts during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in Riyadh.

However, the announcement raised immediate doubts because the Iran-backed Houthis are skipping the talks because they are taking place in Saudi Arabia, their adversary in the conflict.

Other unilateral ceasefires announced by the coalition over the past two years swiftly collapsed.

People stand at the site of Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa on Saturday. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

The United Nations, diplomats and others had been pushing for a ceasefire to mark Ramadan which is likely to start this weekend, depending on the sighting of the new crescent moon.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began the talks on Tuesday in Riyadh. The summit is expected to continue through April 7.

The Houthis also rejected the summit because of the continuing closure of the airport in Yemen's capital and restrictions on the country's ports by the Saudi-led coalition.

The rebels, who over the weekend attacked an oil depot in the Saudi city of Jiddah ahead of a Formula One race there, have called for the talks to be held in a "neutral" country.

"The Saudi regime must prove its seriousness toward peace … by responding to a ceasefire, lifting the siege and expelling foreign forces from our country," Houthi spokesperson Mohammad Abdul-Salam wrote on Twitter.

"Then peace will come and it is time to talk about political solutions in a calm atmosphere away from any military or humanitarian pressure."

PHOTOS | Yemen rebels attack oil depot: 

However, a Geneva-based rights group focused on Yemen, SAM, accused the Houthis of arresting three Yemeni civil rights activists in Ibb province who had planned to attend the Riyadh talks. The Houthis did not respond to questions about the arrests.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh, supported the Houthi position in a statement Tuesday. He also noted Ramadan was soon and said a possible prisoner swap could help ease tensions.

"The plan proposed by Sanaa in good faith carries a strong message suggesting robust determination to end the war, lift the cruel blockade on people and resolve the Yemen crisis through political means," Khatibzadeh said.

Deadly war

Yemen's war began in September 2014, when the Houthis swept into the capital, Sanaa, from their northwestern stronghold in the Arab world's poorest country. The Houthis then pushed into exile the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, elected in 2012 as the sole candidate after the long rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh.

A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015 to try to restore Hadi's government to power. But the war stretched into long bloody years, pushing Yemen to the brink of famine.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in the warfare, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Those include both fighters and civilians; the most-recent figure for the civilian death toll in Yemen's conflict stands at 14,500.

Also, Saudi airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians and targeted the country's infrastructure. The Houthis have used child soldiers and indiscriminately laid landmines across the country.

now