The leader of the Houthi rebels in Yemen has announced that the group is willing to end all targeted strikes against Saudi Arabia. In a televised address on Friday, the Houthi Supreme Political Council Chair, Mahdi al-Mashat, made it clear that the rebels would no longer use weapons such as military drones and ballistic missiles in targeting the Kingdom. However, he stated that the steps towards de-escalation, were being taken on the premise that reciprocal actions would be taken by Saudi Arabia and its allies. According to Al Jazeera, al-Mashat also used the address to call for the reopening the International Airport in the capital Sanaa, and open access to the Hodeidah sea port, crucial in allowing UN humanitarian aid to enter the country.
The announcement has led to renewed hope for a possible ceasefire in a country that has been hampered by warfare for the past five years. In response to the announcement, Marten Griffiths, who is the UN special envoy to Yemen, stated that he welcomed the decision by the Houthi rebels, and said that the move, if implemented “can send a powerful message of the will to end the war.” He also welcomed a renewed desire to settle the conflict through a “political solution.” Of course, the longevity of this gesture by the Houthi rebels, is heavily reliant on the reaction of the Saudi government, who, as of Sunday, have not yet offered a statement on the matter. The position is further complicated by the fact that the rebels took responsibility for the attacks on a Saudi oil field last week. However, these attacks have since been blamed on Iran by both Saudi Arabia and the United States, with both countries vowing to take necessary measures in response. The Iranians are thought to be sponsoring the Houthi rebels, although this has always been denied by Tehran.
The conflict in Yemen has raged on since 2014, when Houthi rebels deposed the president and took control of the capital Sanaa. Since February 2015, Saudi airstrikes, with the support of countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, have targeted the country. According to Human Rights Watch, 6,872 civilians have died in the conflict, and a further 10,000 have been wounded. 14 million people are at risk of starvation and death, outcomes which have been exacerbated by outbreaks of diseases such as cholera. Whilst this latest development is welcome news, the fact that this war is taking place at a time of great regional uncertainty between Saudi Arabia and Iran, means that any hope of a ceasefire in the conflict sooner rather than later, is due to misguided optimism, as opposed to any expectation.
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