Saudi Arabia has offered Yemen’s Houthi rebels a nationwide ceasefire in a series of proposals aimed at ending the brutal six-year war in the country, including the partial lifting of the blockade on Sana’a international airport and some seaports.
Riyadh also said it would support a UN humanitarian corridor in the oil rich city of Marib, which has been under months of bombardment by the Houthis.
It appears from initial reactions that the offer may not be enough for the Houthis, who have insisted the Saudis entirely lift what they see as an illegal and immoral blockade of the strategic Hodeidah port.
Saudi Arabia said instead it was willing to allow ships to enter the port so long as they complied with UN security council guidelines. Riyadh and the UN-recognised Yemeni government believe the Houthis use the shipments to bring in illegal weapons, but with the threat of famine growing the pressure on the Saudis to lift the unilateral blockade has been rising.
The UN has already set up a mechanism in Djibouti to inspect ships before they dock at Hodeidah port, but Saudi-led coalition warships hold up most vessels for weeks despite UN clearance.
Under the Saudi plan all the income from the port would go to a jointly administered Yemen Central Bank based in Hodeidah,
A Houthi spokesperson said the offer would not be treated as new or serious if it did not include an effort to separate humanitarian issues such as the blockade, from political discussions. But he added they were prepared to speak to the US, Saudi Arabia and Oman to try to reach a settlement.
Two weeks ago the Houthis rejected a US plan for a ceasefire because it did not include any efforts to lift the blockade.
The latest proposal comes amid a spike in drone and missile attacks on the kingdom, including its energy facilities, claimed by the rebels.
Announcing the plan, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said political negotiations between the Saudi-backed government and the Houthis would be restarted.
“The initiative will take effect as soon as the Houthis agree to it,"Añadió, calling on the group and the government to accept the offer. The plan was also backed by the US secretary of state, Antony Blink, as well as by Kuwait.
The UN and Saudi-backed Yemeni government said it would accept the terms of the Saudi ceasefire, but claimed the Houthi militias “met all previous initiatives with obstinacy and procrastination”. The Houthis had “worked to prolong and deepen the humanitarian crisis by rejecting our initiative to open Sana’a airport, plunder relief aid and steal Hodeidah port revenues allocated to pay employees’ salaries, in exchange for misleading the international community by provoking crises at the expense of the suffering of Yemenis.”
It has been apparent for more than a year that Saudi Arabia would like to see the civil war end so long as its own security and borders were preserved. The kingdom has accused Iran of supplying weapons to the Houthis with which to attack Riyadh.
The United Arab Emirates has also pulled back from the war although it remains influential over the Southern Transitional Council, the secessionist group that wants to see Yemen revert to two countries with one of the capitals based in Aden in the south.