Saudi-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen’s capital declared a unilateral ceasefire Wednesday, despite the fact that the insurgents had rejected the offer.
At 6 a.m., the Saudi-proposed pause of fighting began ahead of Ramadan, the holy Muslim fasting month. Similar efforts have failed and no independent confirmation was available on whether hostilities were halted between Saudi-led forces, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, or not.
The cease-fire announcement made late Tuesday raised immediate concerns because Iran-backed rebels have decided to skip the ongoing summit on the war in Saudi Arabia called by the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council because it takes place on their enemy’s territory.
Within hours, Mohammed al-Bukaiti, a Houthi official, rejected the offer to close Sanaa’s airport. Also, the Saudi-led coalition placed restrictions on the country’s ports.
He wrote that if the blockade continues, it would be futile for the coalition to declare an end to its military operations. “The suffering of Yemenis caused by the blockade has been worse than the war itself,” he tweeted early Wednesday.
The United Nations and other organizations had been pushing warring parties to agree to a truce for Ramadan. This has only tenuously happened in the past. Depending on the sightings of the new crescent Moon, Ramadan could begin this weekend.
The talks began Tuesday in Riyadh by the GCC members, which include Bahrain, Kuwait Oman Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman. A portion of the discussion was broadcast live by Saudi state television on Wednesday.
GCC Secretary General Nayef Al-Hajraf greeted the Yemeni delegations at Riyadh and hailed the talks as a “breakthrough in moving Sanaa away from war to peace.”
Al-Hajraf stated that the path to security and peace for Yemen was not impossible, despite the many challenges. “The Yemeni consultations are not an option. It is a duty.
Hans Grundberg, U.N. special representative for Yemen, called the cease-fire offer by the Saudi-led coalition “a step forward” and wished success to the delegates in their negotiations.
The summit will continue until April 7.
The war in Yemen began in September 2014 when the Houthis invaded Sanaa from their northwestern stronghold, the Arab world’s most poorest country. After the long rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Houthis forced into exile President Abed Rabbo Mensour Hadi’s government.
To restore Hadi’s government, a Saudi-led coalition including the UAE entered the conflict in March 2015. The war lasted for many years and brought Yemen to the brink famine.
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, more than 150,000 people were killed in the conflict. These include both civilians and fighters. The latest figure for civilian deaths in Yemen’s conflict is 14,500.
Saudi airstrikes have claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians. The Houthis used child soldiers and randomly laid landmines throughout the country.