As the two-month period of the UN-sponsored ceasefire in Yemen nears its end, concerns about its extension have taken center stage despite claims of violations from the opposing sides.
In separate statements, heads of both the Houthi-led administration and the Saudi-backed Presidential Council expressed their willingness to extend the ceasefire despite the setbacks in talks over the siege of Taiz on Sunday.
Representatives of the Houthis and the Aden-based Presidential Council met in Jordan’s capital Amman for extended talks over the lifting of the siege on Taiz, the third largest city in Yemen, on Wednesday, but failed to reach any understanding.
Abdul Karim Shaiban, head of the delegation of the Saudi-backed government, claimed on Monday that the Houthis refused to consider their government’s demand to open the main roads linking Taiz to Sanaa and other major urban centers in the country.
Taiz in the south-west of Yemen is under contested control with both the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government controlling parts of the city in a stalemate since 2015. The Saudi-backed coalition has blamed the Houthis of preventing access to basic amenities for Taiz’s residents as they control the main entry points to the city.
Lifting the siege on Taiz was one of the central conditions put forward by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition for a ceasefire. It is feared that if the Houthis fail to give considerable concessions on Taiz, the ceasefire may collapse.
A large demonstration was organized by the Saudi-backed forces in Taiz on Wednesday, May 25, demanding lifting of the siege. The Saudi-backed government of Yemen, based in Aden and led by the Presidential Council, claimed that it agreed to lift the blockade of the Sanaa international airport expecting reciprocation from the Houthis on Taiz.
Houthis willing to extend truce
Mehdi al-Mashat, President of the Houthi-led administration or the National Salvation Government, was reported by Reuters as saying a day earlier that his government is willing to extend the ceasefire. “We affirm that we are not against the extension of the truce,” however, “what is not possible is accepting any truce in which the suffering of our people continues,” he said.
On Monday, al-Mashat warned that if the talks in Amman fail, his government will “announce a unilateral initiative.” He did not elaborate on what the unilateral move would be. However, he hinted at the pressure exerted by the Saudi-backed administration, saying that “the enemy is trying to exploit the suffering of the people in Taiz.”
Claiming repeated violations of the truce by the Saudi-led coalition forces, al-Mashat added, “we accepted this truce, knowing that the aggression will not fulfil and will not abide by it, but, taking into account the suffering of our people, we had to ease the siege, so we accepted this truce knowing that it will not abide by it.”
The UN-sponsored ceasefire in Yemen which came into effect on April 3 on the occasion of Ramadan is set to expire on June 2 if an agreement is not reached by then between both the parties to extend the ceasefire period. The ceasefire was the first in the seven-year-long war in Yemen and helped build momentum to start a peace process.
Hans Grundberg, UN special envoy to Yemen, visited Amman on Thursday where he met representatives from both the sides. He also met head of the Presidential Council Rashad Al-Alimi and urged both the parties to continue talking. He claimed in a statement on Twitter on Monday that “renewing the truce is critical to solidify benefits delivered so far & provide space to move towards a political settlement.”