Saudi Arabia has proposed a five-day halt to hostilities in Yemen to allow aid agencies to reach civilians suffering because of the country’s war, the Saudi foreign minister said on Thursday.
The minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said the cease-fire’s start date had yet to be decided and could be in a few days. Saudi Arabia will comply only if the Shiite Houthi rebels who have seized the Yemeni capital, Sana, agree to do so, he added. The Houthis have forced the Saudi-backed president into exile and are battling a variety of opposing Yemeni militias on many fronts.
Mr. Jubeir announced the initiative at a joint news conference here with Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the United States supported the truce and called on the Houthis and their supporters to accept it.
“No bombing, no shooting, no movement or repositioning of troops to achieve military advantage,” Mr. Kerry said. He added that the proposed “humanitarian pause” would probably begin in several days so that the details could be worked out and so aid agencies could prepare to bring in badly needed food, medicine and other supplies.
The plan has not yet been presented to the Houthis, Mr. Kerry said, and there was no response from the official Houthi spokesman later on Thursday. Tawfiq al-Himyary, a member of a senior Houthi leadership council, reacted coldly to the proposal, deriding it as an attempt by the Saudis to provide “cover” for what he characterized as their failures during the war.
“Saudi Arabia feels it is in trouble after more than 40 days of aggression,” Mr. Himyary said. “It did not reach its stated goals, but killed and displaced thousands of civilians.
“Saudi Arabia has no right to attack the Yemenis or even to give them any kind of truce,” he added. “There is no trust in this regime at all.”
Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Persian Gulf nations began bombing Yemen in March to stop the Houthis from seizing more territory and to try to restore President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power. Saudi officials say they felt compelled to act because they see the Houthis as an armed force taking orders from the kingdom’s regional rival, Iran.
While the Houthis share Iran’s Shiite faith and acknowledge close relations with Tehran, diplomats in the region say the Houthis are far from a direct Iranian proxy force.
In April, Saudi Arabia announced the end of the bombing campaign, changing the name of the military operation from Decisive Storm to Restoring Hope. But the war, including airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, has continued.
The coalition has imposed a naval blockade along the Gulf of Aden and bombed the main airport in Sana, leading to an outcry from aid agencies.
The cease-fire proposal came after a day of some of the worst violence inYemen’s conflict. More than 80 people were killed in airstrikes and clashes on Wednesday, including more than 35 civilians who were killed in the southern city of Aden when a mortar shell struck a boat carrying fleeing civilians away from fighting between Houthi-led forces and local militias, according to a local health official.
In a report about the toll of the combat in Aden released on Thursday, Human Rights Watch said civilians faced grave threats because of the clashes. The group cited abuses by the pro-Houthi fighters, including the killing of two women last month and detentions of local aid workers, as evidence of possible war crimes committed by the combatants.
In response to the fighting in Aden, as well as in the city of Taiz, Yemen’s exiled government appealed to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday to send land forces, according to Reuters.
But on Thursday, Mr. Kerry dismissed the possibility of a land incursion, saying, “Neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia are talking with each other or otherwise about sending ground troops into Yemen.”
During his visit, Mr. Kerry met with King Salman; Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is the interior minister; and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son and the defense minister.
The visit came at a complicated time in Saudi-American relations, with Saudi leaders feeling that the United States, their longtime ally, has withdrawn from the Middle East and is overeager to sign an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.
President Obama will host the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations next week in Washington, where Mr. Obama is expected to try to address their worries about regional security.
Ben Hubbard reported from Riyadh, and Kareem Fahim from Cairo. Mohammed Ali Kalfood contributed reporting from Sana, Yemen.
New York Times