Friday, 14 December, 2018

Iran backs Yemen peace talks

Wounded Houthi fighters wait at Sanaa airport during his evacuation from Yemen Wounded Houthi fighters wait at Sanaa airport during his evacuation from Yemen
Deanna Wagner | 06 December, 2018, 13:46

Although no date has been announced for the start of the negotiations, Yemeni government sources say they could begin on Thursday.

The Houthis, who are more adept at guerrilla warfare, hold most population centers including Sanaa and the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions that is now the focus of the war.

The first Yemen peace talks since 2016 are the best chance yet to end the war, analysts say, as the worldwide community throws its weight behind resolving the devastating conflict.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), another key backer of the government, said the planned talks offered a "critical opportunity" to end almost four years of war.

Yemeni Houthi officials are expected to travel to Sweden shortly for talks as early as Wednesday to end the almost four-year-old war after the Saudi-led coalition allowed the evacuation of some of their wounded for treatment.

The almost four-year-old conflict, which has killed thousands and left millions facing starvation, pits the Iranian-aligned Houthi group against Yemeni forces backed by an Arab coalition loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A United Nations plane is to evacuate wounded Houthi rebels from Yemen in an effort to build confidence ahead of peace talks, the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the rebels says.

The Sweden meeting follows two major confidence-boosting gestures between the warring parties - a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of 50 wounded insurgents from the rebel-held capital for treatment in neutral Oman.

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"This is one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities", ICRC spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib said.

A government team, headed by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, was expected in Sweden on Wednesday.

The evacuation of the wounded fighters has been a key condition of the Houthis to attend the upcoming round of talks.

Outrage over the October 2 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has intensified global scrutiny of Saudi activities in the region, potentially giving Western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, more leverage to demand action.

Overall, 24 million people in Yemen, roughly 75% of the population, will need humanitarian assistance in 2019, United Nations humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told reporters in Geneva.

Pressure to bring the war in Yemen to an end has risen in recent months amid a worsening humanitarian crisis that has resulted in the deaths of some 85,000 children due to malnutrition, according to Save the Children.

"The country with the biggest problem in 2019 is going to be Yemen", he said.

Joost Hiltermann, the MENA programme director at the International Crisis Group, said Griffiths should aim to get an agreement during the negotiations to stave off a Saudi-led coalition offensive on the critical Yemeni port city of Hodeidah.