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UN says Yemen’s warring sides agree to extend existing ceasefire

SANAA, Yemen – The United Nations said Yemen’s warring parties on Tuesday agreed to extend an existing truce by two months following concerted international efforts.

The four-month truce is the longest nationwide ceasefire since the war began in the Arab world’s poorest country nearly eight years ago.

The UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said in a statement that the country’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels had also agreed to try to reach “an expanded armistice as soon as possible.” good”.

Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2014, when the Houthis advanced from their northern enclave and captured the capital, forcing the government to flee south before going into exile in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition – then backed by the United Sates – went to war in early 2015 to try to restore government power. Since then, the conflict has turned into a proxy war between regional enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran, which support the Houthis.

The announcement to extend the truce came hours after an Omani delegation concluded three days of talks with the Houthi leader, including with rebel leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi in the capital Sanaa.

Following this announcement, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the Houthi’s chief negotiator and spokesman, thanked Oman’s efforts and called on the UN to work on opening the airport in Sanaa, and the important port of Hodeida in a tweets.

The ceasefire initially went into effect on April 2 and was extended on June 2. However, there have been offensive actions in recent months, including a suspected Houthi shelling in Last month left at least one child dead and 10 injured in Taiz province.

Both sides have publicly announced that they have fortified their frontline positions, especially around the oil-rich city of Marib, which the Houthis have been trying to capture for more than a year. There are also demonstrations of power through military parades with the participation of thousands of soldiers. The government and the Houthis both claim to have recorded dozens of ceasefire violations every week.

But the ceasefire has brought relief to Yemenis who have endured a decade of political instability and conflict. According to the United Nations food agency, about a third of Yemen’s population of 30 million are facing starvation due to war and lack of funding for humanitarian aid.

Besides the lull in violence, the truce established two commercial flights a week from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt, after the country’s airport was closed to passenger flights for years. The truce also calls for the Saudi-led coalition to allow a total of 36 fuel tankers to enter the port of Hodeida within four months. Essam al-Motwakel, a spokesman for the Houthi-run oil group, said only 29 ships were allowed into Hodeida as of Tuesday.

Both Sanaa and Hodeida are controlled by the Houthi rebels, but are blockaded by the Saudi-led coalition.

The truce also calls for the opening of roads around Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, which the Houthis have besieged for years. However, the rebels rejected two UN proposals to lift the blockade, according to the envoy’s office. Another item on the agenda is finding ways to pay the country’s civil servants, many of whom have had to pay little or no pay for years due to civil strife. The funding for government employee salaries remains a point of serious controversy.

Ahmed Bin Mubarak, the foreign minister of the internationally recognized government, has called on the Houthis to reopen the Taiz Road and “ensure that the revenue of Hodeida ports is used to pay civil servants”. Revenue of the ports is collected by the Houthis.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the ceasefire extension as a positive development, his spokesman said. “We very much welcome this positive development. The people of Yemen deserve a peaceful country,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Aid groups also welcomed the decision to extend the truce and urged Yemen’s leaders to see it as an opportunity to do more serious work towards peace.

“We hope this two-month extension will allow the reopening of roads connecting cities and regions, allowing many displaced people to return home safely and ensuring humanitarian aid can reach them. to those who have been out of reach for too long because of Erin Hutchinson, the Yemen director of the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a statement.

Mohammed Abdulwasea, advocacy manager for the charity Oxfam, called for all the terms of the armistice agreement to be fulfilled and permanent peace to be achieved. “Now is the time for all parties – and the international community – to work towards a lasting and inclusive peace.” he say.

Tuesday’s extension is inconsistent with the proposed six-month ceasefire extension, according to a government official. The Houthis had wanted more flights from Sanaa airport and more fuel ships allowed to Hodeida to agree on that longer period. The internationally recognized government will not discuss the Houthi demands before opening the Taiz road, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Rashad al-Alimi, the head of the presidential palace, to push for an extension of the truce. He said the ceasefire “offers the best chance for peace in years – we must not let it go away.”

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Magdy reports from Cairo. Associated Press journalist Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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