UN call for ceasefire in Yemen yet to take hold

After five years of fighting, is in an extremely vulnerable position should the coronavirus infection pass its borders.
Sunday 29/03/2020
A Yemeni girl wears a protective face mask amid fears of the spread of coronavirus in Sana'a. (Reuters)
Vulnerable country. A Yemeni girl wears a protective face mask amid fears of the spread of coronavirus in Sana'a. (Reuters)

LONDON--Warring parties in Yemen, including the internationally recognised government, Houthi rebels and southern separatists, welcomed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's call for a global truce to concentrate resources on the coronavirus pandemic.

The United Nations urged all parties to work with the UN special envoy to “achieve a nationwide de-escalation; progress on economic and humanitarian measures that will alleviate suffering and build confidence; and the resumption of an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process.”

The UN statement said a political solution is the only way to a comprehensive and sustainable resolution of the conflict in Yemen.

Yemen has officially not been untouched by the coronavirus pandemic but, after five years of fighting, is in an extremely vulnerable position should the coronavirus infection pass its borders.

The Yemeni government, in a statement, welcomed Guterres’s call to “de-escalate acts of violence in the entire country.” “The political, economic and health situation requires halting all escalations… to preserve people’s lives and deal responsibly with this pandemic,” the government statement added.

The Saudi-led coalition also backed the initiative and the Iran-allied Houthi militia responded by setting out terms before agreeing to a ceasefire.

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi welcomed a cessation in hostilities but stressed that the Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the Yemeni government must lift its blockade on airports and seaports. Al-Houthi demanded that the coalition pay local salaries to enable workers to take "full measures" to guard against the virus.

During a speech March 21 commemorating the death of his brother Hussein, al-Houthi said that COVID-19 might be introduced to Yemen through Saudi, UAE and US cooperation as a “biological weapon."

Al-Houthi said he believed that countries such as the United States have huge laboratories "capable of developing viruses to spread epidemics," especially given the rise of China as an economic competitor, Almasdar online reported.

Almasdar also said the Houthis were holding hundreds of Yemenis who had arrived from Saudi Arabia under quarantine as "a measure against the virus."

Despite what appeared to be a general endorsement to the United Nations’ request for secession in hostilities, fighting in Yemen continued. Government troops attacked Houthis in Sarbwa, Marib, Jawf and Bayda provinces, local media reported. Houthis were said to have attacked the village al-Hadd, bordering Lahij and Bayda provinces.

Yemeni government representatives met with World Health Organisation (WHO) officials and Saudi relief agencies regarding the humanitarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Yemen.

Yemeni Health Minister Nasser Baoum met with officials from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre to discuss providing medical equipment and supplies. He urged WHO representatives to provide Yemen with testing and training, Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported.

A separate meeting was held in the government's temporary capital in Aden to discuss measures for testing and quarantine in the country. Health officials reviewed the availability of medicine and efforts to raise awareness about the outbreak, the newspaper said.

The Yemeni government through its Ministry of Religious Endowments and Guidance suspended prayers at mosques and all religious seminars, schools and lectures inside and outside mosques.

It advised citizens to remain in their homes to limit the spread of the virus, in line with what many countries have ordered.

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