By Aziz El Yaakoubi
RIYADH -United Nations and United States envoys on Wednesday welcomed unilateral truce moves by Yemen’s warring sides as encouraging steps, while stressing the need for a more comprehensive ceasefire that would help alleviate a dire humanitarian crisis.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthis had said it would temporarily halt military operations from Wednesday after the Iran-aligned group this week declared a three-day cessation of cross-border attacks and ground offensives in Yemen.
As part of efforts to end the seven-year-old war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions into hunger, the unilateral initiatives followed a U.N. call for a truce during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that starts this week.
U.N. special envoy Hans Grundberg and U.S. special envoy Tim Lenderking attended the start of week-long Yemeni discussions in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Wednesday, which the Houthis shunned for not being held in a “neutral” country.
Lenderking, who along with Grundberg has for the past year been pressing Riyadh to ease coalition sea and air restrictions on Houthi-held areas, described the truce moves as encouraging.
Grundberg said they were a “step in the right direction”.
“Yemen needs a truce. I am engaging with the parties with a sense of urgency to reach this truce by the beginning of Ramadan. The truce will ease the fuel crisis and facilitate the freedom of movement,” Grundberg told the gathering.
Two sources familiar with the matter had said the U.N. proposal was for a temporary truce in exchange for allowing fuel ships to dock at Houthi-held Hodeidah port and a small number of commercial flights to operate from Sanaa airport.
A permanent ceasefire has proved elusive as both sides resisted compromise. The Houthis want the coalition to lift its blockade ahead of any truce talks while the alliance, which controls Yemen’s seas and air space, wants a simultaneous deal.
The spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday urged the parties to engage “without preconditions” with Grundberg.
Riyadh has struggled to exit the conflict that is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Houthis, who ousted Yemen’s Saudi-backed government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.