Yemen war: Saudi-Houthi talks bring hope for ceasefire
  • By Sebastian Usher
  • Middle East analyst, BBC News

image caption,

Houthi supporters and fighters have been engaged in a war with Saudi-backed forces since 2015.

A Saudi Arabian delegation is holding talks with the Houthi rebel movement in the Yemeni capital Sana’a aimed at reaching a new and permanent ceasefire.

A mediation team from Oman is also in Sana’a.

The capital has been under the control of the Houthis since they ousted the Yemeni government in 2015.

Soon, fighting broke out between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition backing the government.

It has continued ever since, with tens of thousands of Yemenis dead and 80% of the population dependent on aid.

No official confirmation has yet been made by the Saudi side, but Houthi outlets say both Saudi and Omani representatives are in Sana’a.

A leaked photo appears to show Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi shaking hands with a masked Saudi official.

It is being hailed as another significant sign that both sides are ready to finally reach an agreement that could end the war.

No named official has commented, but reports from various sources suggest the deal could be signed by the end of this month.

Again, the terms of such an agreement are not made public.

But they are said to include pledges to pay public servants and reopen all ports and airports – as well as ambitious goals such as rebuilding the country, the withdrawal of foreign powers and political change. All these have been dead ends in the past.

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The initiative parallels a UN process that resulted in a temporary ceasefire last year.

During the ceasefire, various confidence-building measures were able to continue, including the easing of restrictions on imports and prisoner exchanges.

The conflict in Yemen is complex – a permanent ceasefire between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis does not necessarily end all fighting.

Other factions, including al-Qaeda, still have their own battles to fight.

But the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran appears to be coming to an end – the two regional rivals have now pledged a rapprochement that will see them reopen diplomatic missions.

This appears to have created momentum for a serious push to end the war, with the talks in Sana’a clearly key to its success.

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