After false start, ceasefire takes effect in Yemen
LONDON - After a false start, a 48- hour cessation of military operations went into effect November 19th as announced by the Saudi-led coalition at war with Iran-allied Houthi rebels.
The ceasefire could be extended, the coalition said, if the Houthis adhered to it and allowed the passage of aid to areas held by the militia, particularly the besieged southern city Taiz.
Houthi Brigadier-General Sharaf Luqman confirmed to Agence France-Presse that his group would abide by the ceasefire, based on a previous agreement reached in Oman. However, the killing of a Saudi soldier by a missile fired by the Houthis cast doubts on their commitment.
Since the start of the 20-month war, six attempts at a ceasefire have collapsed. The latest pause in hostilities comes 48 hours after a ceasefire announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry failed before it started because the internationally recognised Yemeni government said it was never consulted.
Kerry, speaking November 15th in Abu Dhabi, said both sides of the conflict had agreed a ceasefire to go into effect on November 17th and a national unity government would be formed by the end of the year.
Kerry said that while in Oman, the Iran-allied Houthi rebels and their ally, Yemeni former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, had agreed to the truce provided the other side also keep it. “And thus far the Emiratis and the Saudis… have both agreed to try to move forward with this,” Kerry said.
That surprised the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdelmalik al-Mekhlafi said the government was not consulted.
“We have rejected the agreement because there is no agreement in principle,” Mekhlafi told the Al Jazeera news channel. “We have only a declaration that means nothing. It’s an agreement between Kerry and the Houthis.
“We have our own reasons to refuse it because it doesn’t commit to the international agreement and gives a lot of power to the Houthis, more than what the Yemeni people accept. Houthis are a minority in the country.”
More confusion set in when US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau was asked whether the Hadi government had agreed to the deal.
“What he (Kerry) announced was that we have made significant progress towards that road map, towards the UN road map, looking at a November 17th date,” Trudeau said during a news briefing. “He had had constructive engagements with the Houthis about this; and that we believe there’s a path forward.”
At another State Department briefing, spokesman John Kirby addressed a question as to whether Kerry “may have been in a bit of a hurry to conclude a (ceasefire) deal”.
Fighting in Yemen raged on until the coalition ceasefire announcement of November 19th.
More than 7,000 people have been killed and 2.8 million displaced since the war in Yemen began in March 2015. A Saudi-led Arab coalition, supported by the United States and Britain, began an air campaign against the rebels after they overran Sana’a and seized most of the country.