Saturday, 2nd December 2023

Will Yemen’s latest truce hold?

An UN-brokered two-month truce took effect in Yemen Saturday, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and analysts hope for a rare respite in the impoverished country's seven-year war.

Forces loyal to Yemen’s Huthi rebels take part in a military parade marking the seventh anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in their country, in the capital Sanaa, on March 31, 2022. (Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

An UN-brokered two-month truce took effect in Yemen Saturday, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and analysts hope for a rare respite in the impoverished country’s seven-year war.

The Iran-backed Huthi rebels and the Saudi-led military coalition, which intervened in 2015 to shore up Yemen’s government against the insurgents a year after they seized the capital Sanaa, have both agreed to observe the ceasefire.

But will it hold when previous truces have fallen apart? Here are some key questions about the ceasefire agreed in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country.
Why now? –
Mohammed Al-Basha, a Yemen expert for the US-based Navanti research group, says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the disruption of global food and energy supplies were a trigger.

“The prolonged hostilities in Ukraine are creating urgency to end the war in Yemen,” he said.

Yemen’s war has killed hundreds of thousands directly or indirectly and displaced millions, triggering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.

At least 80 percent of the country’s 30 million people are dependent on foreign aid.

With fighting on the ground at a stalemate, the truce has become necessary, said Ahmed Nagi, of the Malcom H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut.

“The Huthis feel they can no longer progress after the battles of Shabwa and Marib, and the financial losses they incurred,” he said.

Pro-government forces seized control of the oil-rich governorate of Shabwa in southern Yemen earlier this year.

Meanwhile the Huthis have tried for months to advance on the neighbouring region of Marib, whose capital city of the same name is the government’s last northern stronghold.

According to Nagi, the Saudi-led coalition believes that “pushing ahead with the war will only serve to expand its impact on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates” — the two key players in the coalition.

Over the past year, the Huthis have launched a series of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE, hitting key infrastructure.

Last month, they attacked 16 targets in Saudi Arabia, turning an oil plant near a Formula One track in Jeddah into a blazing inferno.

Saudi Arabia has warned that such attacks on its oil facilities could derail the kingdom’s ability to meet global crude demand following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The global fuel crisis heightened the value of Saudi fuel supply as it is threatened by… (Huthi) cross-border attacks,” said Basha.

Will the truce hold?
The Huthis and the coalition have not reported any major violations since the truce started Saturday at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT).

Under the UN-brokered agreement, all ground, air and naval military operations, including cross-border attacks, should cease.

In addition, 18 fuel ships are to be allowed into rebel-held Hodeida port, a lifeline for Yemen, and two commercial flights a week can resume in and out of Huthi-held Sanaa airport.

“The success of this initiative will depend on the warring parties’ continued commitment to implementing the truce agreement with its accompanying humanitarian measures,” said UN special envoy Hans Grundberg.

But analysts say the truce remains vulnerable.

It “tests the fragile trust between all the warring parties,” said Basha, who however welcomed an initiative that coincided with the start of Ramadan.

Maged al-Madhaji, director of the Sanaa Centre for Strategic Studies, agreed.

“The truce is a rare chance for humanitarian relief and to ease the impact of the war on citizens,” he said.

“I think it will hold during Ramadan because the Huthis need it. Extending it, however, will depend on political decisions that are not on the horizon.”

Can it lead to peace?
The truce — welcomed by world powers — can be extended beyond two months if both sides agree.

It came after intense diplomacy, including talks underway in Saudi Arabia which the rebels snubbed because they were being hosted by an “enemy”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said he hoped the truce would lead to a “political process” to bring peace to Yemen.

US President Joe Biden stressed, “it is imperative that we end this war”.

The researcher Nagi said the truce could serve as a basis “for a solution… leading to a political settlement”.

Madhaji was more cautious, citing previous failed bids in 2016 and 2018 to halt hostilities.

“The previous attempts indicate that truces in Yemen hold only if needed and do not provide a platform for real peace,” he said.

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