Is Yemen ceasefire the first step to peace?
Agreement over disputed port raises hopes of ending ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’
Yemen’s warring sides have agreed a ceasefire around the flashpoint port Hudaydah, marking the first major breakthrough in peace talks for two years which could end what the UN calls the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
Under the truce, brokered at landmark talks in Sweden, the Houthi rebels will withdraw their troops from the strategic western city and relinquish control of three of its ports, which serve as a major lifeline for more than 18 million Yemenis who live in rebel-held territory.
In return for a share of the port’s revenue, the Central Bank will begin paying the salaries of as many as 1.2 million government employees in Houthi-held areas who have not been paid in nearly two years. It is hoped this will lead to improvements in health, education and sanitation services which have effectively collapsed.
The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said that the ceasefire would also “open up the east-west road [that connects Hudaydah and Sanaa] so that a humanitarian pipeline, which is crucial to the people of Yemen, can start delivering aid”.
Announcing the agreement, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called it “an important step” and "real progress toward future talks to end the conflict."
Yemen’s foreign minister and a leader in the rival Houthi rebel group then shook hands “in a highly symbolic gesture that has raised hopes for progress on ending the nearly four-year war”, says The Independent.
“The ceasefire is also important as a confidence-building measure”, NPR’s Ruth Sherlock reports. “Like a prisoner swap announced earlier this week in talks, it's a concrete agreement that could build goodwill and lay the groundwork for more substantive peace talks in the future” says the public news organisation.
After four years of war between Saudi-led coalition supporting the government and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, “the summit itself is an achievement” agrees The Economist, “but big obstacles stand in the way of last peace”.
Sources told Al Jazeera that the next round of talks, scheduled to be held in late January, “would focus on a framework for negotiations on a political process”.
Peter Salisbury, a Yemen analyst and consultant at the International Crisis Group, told the news outlet the momentum had not yet “shifted from war to peace”.
The transition could be aided by increased international pressure, which has been slowly growing following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The US senate voted yesterday to advance a resolution that ends US military assistance to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen.
The New York Times says were it to be ratified by Congress, it would amount to “another stinging, bipartisan rebuke over the Trump administration’s defence of Saudi Arabia”.
The White House has come under pressure to distance itself from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of mounting evidence he was directly involved in the killing of Khashoggi in Istanbul in October.