Opposing Sides Of Yemeni Civil War Agree To Renew Peace Agreement, But Expansion Of Truce Remains Incomplete

On Tuesday, August 9, the opposing sides of Yemen’s civil war agreed to renew a two-month truce due to expire, according to a United Nations envoy. The agreement continues the nation of 30 million people’s longest period of peace since the Iran-aligned Houthi movement began fighting the Saudi Arabia-led coalition government in 2014. While temporarily preventing further violence, the deal defies international pressure for an extended and expanded arrangement that could lead to a more permanent solution.

“This truce extension includes a commitment from the parties to intensify negotiations to reach an expanded truce agreement as soon as possible,” commented special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg, alluding to the possibility of an extended deal when the truce is set to expire again in another two months. According to Reuters, Grundberg had been pushing for a six-month truce with additional measures, but both sides had issues with the implementation of the initial deal formed in April. In fact, the U.N. reported that both sides had accused each other of truce violations and reinforcements to the main front lines. Peter Salisbury of the non-profit think tank Crisis Group acknowledges these difficulties in his assessment of the situation. “Given that the parties to the conflict have sharply different ideas about what a peace process might look like, it will be very difficult to transition from truce to talks,” he states, arguing that the United Nations must make progress on reopening roads in and around Taiz city and negotiating nationwide salary payments. The expanded truce pushed for by Grundberg includes these measures along with increased flights from Sanaa and a regular flow of fuel to Hodeidah.

The international community’s concerns are echoed by the people of Yemen themselves. “We want a truce that improves our standard of living,” said Yemeni school teacher Elham Abdullah. Yemeni university student Tah Abdul-Kareem recognizes that more is needed, but, “still, it is better than a return to war.” Certainly, peace between the Houthis and the internationally-recognized government is better for the future of Yemen than continued conflict. However, fragile, limited-time agreements like the one renewed recently will not be enough to preserve peace for long. The two sides of the Yemeni conflict must faithfully act on their promise to intensify negotiations or else risk the protraction of a war that has already killed tens of thousands and caused millions to go hungry.

The Yemeni Civil War started in late 2014 when the government was ousted from the Yemeni capital Sanaa by the Houthis, an Iran-aligned movement belonging to the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam with de-facto authority in northern Yemen. In March 2015, the Sunni power of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, decided to counter the growing influence of Shi’ite Iran in Yemen and led a coalition in support of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. The conflict continued for the next seven years, collapsing Yemen’s economy and basic services and leaving over 17 million Yemenis in need of food aid. It wasn’t until April of this year that the factions agreed to a two-month truce sponsored by the United Nations, beginning the first nationwide pause in fighting since the start of the war. The truce occurred only after an escalation of military action in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE that led to increased international pressure. In June, the groups renewed the truce and permitted some fuel shipments into Hodeidah port and select commercial flights from Sanaa. According to humanitarian groups, the Sanaa flights have allowed over 8,000 Yemenis to access medical care and pursue education and business opportunities. Additionally, greater access to fuel has helped maintain public services and increase access to them.

All the benefits of the expanded truce deal come only after pressure from the international community has persuaded both sides of the Yemen conflict to negotiate. The U.N. and other international actors must continue their efforts to preserve and improve the state of peace Yemen is currently experiencing, which is still at risk of relapsing into violence. If the Houthis and the coalition government continue the trend of the past agreements, there is a hopeful chance of achieving the peace deal being pushed for by the international community and the Yemeni people.