Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthi movement (also known as Ansar Allah) have resumed direct talks to discuss security along the kingdom's border and future relations under any peace deal with Yemen, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, according to a report by Reuters news agency. The virtual talks between senior Saudi and Houthi officials were facilitated by Oman, both sources said, with one adding that there were also plans for a face-to-face meeting in Muscat if there is enough progress. Meanwhile, speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on Yemen, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg welcomed the fact that the truce between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government has held, but called for action to open road communications with the city of Taiz.
Saudi Arabia and the Yemen's Houthi movement (also known as Ansar Allah) have resumed direct talks to discuss security along the kingdom's border and future relations under any peace deal with Yemen, two sources familiar with the matter said on Tuesday, according to a report by Reuters news agency.
The so far sporadic negotiations between the two sides resumed last month before the scheduled renewal of a U.N.-brokered truce which was extended by another two months on June 2. The resumption in talks is a positive sign for efforts by the United Nations and United States to find a political settlement to the conflict which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The virtual talks between senior Saudi and Houthi officials were facilitated by Oman, both sources said, with one adding that there were also plans for a face-to-face meeting in Muscat if there is enough progress. Reuters said that the Saudi government did not respond to a request for comment. A Houthi official declined to comment.
The sources said Saudi and Houthi officials were discussing a long-term border security agreement as well as Riyadh's concerns over the group's arsenal of ballistic missiles and armed drones used to carry out repeated attacks on Saudi cities, the sources said.
Meanwhile, speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on Yemen, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg welcomed the fact that the truce the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government has held, but called for action to open road communications with the city of Taiz
The ceasefire has seen a drastic reduction in hostilities and civilian casualties, allowed the resumption of civilian flights from the long-shuttered Sanaa airport, and facilitated the flow of fuel into Hodeidah port.
Grundberg said the Houthis must now gradually open the roads leading into the city of Taiz. Taiz governorate has been under siege since 2015, when the group closed main routes and surrounded the city center, largely cutting it off from the rest of the country.
“It is critical that this truce can also deliver on easing the suffering of the people of Taiz,” Grundberg told the Security Council.
“For years, (Taizis’) freedom of movement has been greatly impeded by this conflict. As Taizis know all too well, the only open roads to the city are long and arduous,” said Grundberg. The Swedish diplomat told the council he had personally travelled for over six hours “along the narrow, winding, and rugged mountainous road from Aden to the city of Taiz. Before the conflict, the same trip on the main road would have only taken three hours.”
“In Taiz, I met with men, women, and youth, who told me about their daily plights caused by the closure of access roads in and out of the city. I have also witnessed first-hand how the severe restrictions have crippled the economy, worsened access to healthcare, and endangered travel of civilians.”
The UN has proposed a phased opening of the roads around Taiz. It includes a main route eastward from Taiz city to the Hawban area, as well as additional roads to and from other governorates. The proposal includes measures to ensure the safety of civilian travelers.
“While I am encouraged by the positive response by the Government of Yemen to the UN proposal, I am still waiting for a response from Ansar Allah,” Grundberg said.
In response to Arab News’ questions after the meeting, Grundberg said he wants to urge the Houthis to respond.
Addressing the Security Council for the first time in person since the truce took effect on April 2, which was later extended to Aug. 2, Grundberg said that the ceasefire continues to hold as there have been no airstrikes inside Yemen nor cross-border attacks launched from it since the beginning of the agreement
There has also been a significant reduction in civilian casualties, although Grundberg lamented the fact that lives were still being lost to landmines and unexploded ordinance as civilians ventured into contaminated frontline areas that were previously inaccessible to them.
Despite the overall reduction in hostilities, however, Grundberg said that violations continue with armed clashes occurring on several fronts especially in Marib, Taiz and Hodeidah governorates.
“As you are aware, we do not have independent monitoring capacities, but I take these allegations very seriously,” said Grundberg. “It is critical to prevent such alleged incidents from provoking a spiral of renewed escalations and violence.”
Since the truce began, several commercial flights have left Sanaa airport which had been closed for six years. Around 3,000 passengers have been transported to Amman and Cairo, seeking medical treatment and reconnection with family members.
Grundberg noted the country’s government “prioritizing the needs of Yemenis” by facilitating the opening of the airport, and also reiterated his “sincere appreciation to the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their instrumental roles in facilitating the flights.”
source: commonspace.eu with Reuters (London), Arab News (Riyadh) and agencies
photo: UN Special Envoy, Hans Grundberg, speaking in New York after briefing the UN Security Council on the latest developments in Yemen