Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Monday called for a ceasefire to end the civil war in Yemen and reopen a major airport in the nation’s capital city, Sana’a.
“The initiative aims to end the human suffering of the brotherly Yemeni people, and affirms the Kingdom’s support for efforts to reach a comprehensive political resolution,” said the diplomat. “It is up to the Houthis now…The Houthis must decide whether to put their interests first or Iran’s interests first.”
Saudi Arabia has been involved in the war since 2015, when it teamed up with nine other countries to provide military support to Yemen’s pro-Saudi president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The UK and US have supported the Saudi-led coalition through arms sales and technical assistance, though President Biden paused all weapons sales to the Kingdom in February.
Now, with the civil war an ongoing stalemate and the pandemic exacerbating what has already been called the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Saudi Arabia is clearly looking for a way out. The kingdom is also hoping to shore up its reputation following the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
As expected, the Houthis did not react well to the proposed ceasefire.
“We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade of ports and airports and an initiative to allow in 14 ships that are held by the coalition,” said top Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam. “Opening the airports and seaports is a humanitarian right and should not be used as a pressure tool.”
All previous attempts by the United Nations to end the conflict with diplomacy have failed, and the agency plans to move forward with Saudi Arabia’s proposal.
“The devil is still in the details,” said Peter Salisbury of the International Crisis Group. “The Saudis, the government, and the Houthis all say they support the initiative in concept terms but have quibbled incessantly over timing, sequencing, and the details of each aspect.”
Salisbury expects the air strikes and fighting to continue until both parties have used “all tools at their disposal to improve their bargaining position.”
The civil war in Yemen began in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels captured Sana’a. The conflict has since evolved into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the people of Yemen taking the brunt of the damage.
To date, roughly 80% of Yemen’s population relies on aid and millions are close to starvation. Over half of the population lacks access to water, sanitation, and healthcare. More than 200,000 people – including thousands of civilians – have died in the war.
Saudi Arabia’s last attempt at a ceasefire collapsed in 2020.