Our take: Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to a two-month extension of a United Nations-mediated truce, but a political settlement to end the civil war remains a distant prospect.
On Tuesday, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg announced the renewal of a truce that since April has brought relative calm to Yemen after more than seven years of grueling conflict between the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed government.
The truce has resulted in a major drop in civilian casualties and increased humanitarian access to a country where more than two-thirds of the population requires outside aid to survive.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have expressed support for the truce's extension. In a statement Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Yemen’s warring parties “not to let this opportunity pass,” and to work with Grundberg on his proposal for an expanded truce agreement.
Scott Paul, senior manager of humanitarian policy at Oxfam America, said the pause in fighting has had a tangible impact on people’s lives.
“The truce has given people in Yemen a measure of hope that things are going to be better,” he said. “It’s really down to [the warring parties] to decide that a broader recovery and a more promising outlook for Yemeni people is of greater value to them than their military prospects or their hold on power.”
The existing truce contains three main confidence-building measures. The Saudi-led coalition and Yemeni government have made progress on two of them: resuming international flights out of Sanaa’s airport and clearing fuel deliveries into Hodeidah port.
But the Houthis have yet to reopen the roads into Yemen’s third-largest city of Taiz. The rebels have imposed siege-like conditions on Taiz since 2015, cutting off residents from critical services.
The Houthis have signaled that their compliance with the truce will depend on whether the cash-strapped Yemeni government resumes paying public sector salaries that have been suspended for years.
The lack of salary payments, particularly in Houthi areas, has worsened economic hardship in the Arab world’s poorest country. The UN estimates 80% of Yemen's total population is below the poverty line, and the cost of living is on the rise.
The Houthis are “now trying to bring national salary payments into the picture as a form of stimulus for their areas,” said Peter Salisbury, senior Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group. “It appears that, to an extent at least, negotiations around Taiz are being framed increasingly as kind of ‘salaries for roads.’”
In the next two months, the UN envoy has his work cut out for him. Grundberg’s proposal for an expanded truce would offer a mechanism for paying the salaries of public sector workers and civilian pensions. He’s also calling for the reopening of roads in Taiz, additional flights to and from the Sanaa airport and the regular flow of fuel to Hodeidah.
“We need compromise from all sides to make progress, which includes initial Houthi action to open main roads to Taiz,” US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking told Al-Monitor.
“The United States and international community stand ready to support Yemen’s peace and recovery process, but the Yemeni parties must themselves choose peace,” he said.
From our regional contributors
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Multimedia this week
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Andrew Parasiliti discusses Tunisia’s referendum and US-Tunisia relations with Hanene Tajouri Bessassi, Tunisia’s ambassador to the United States.
Gilles Kepel interviews Zineb Mekouar about her debut novel, “La Poule et son Cumin” (The Hen and its Cumin), which highlights the social and political divisions of contemporary Morocco.
Ben Caspit speaks to Arkady Mil-Man, the head of the Russia program at the Israel National Institute for Security Studies, about increasing tensions between Moscow and Jerusalem.