The head of Yemen’s Houthi-led Supreme Political Council in Sana’a Mahdi al-Mashat met with a joint delegation of Saudi and Oman officials on Sunday, April 9, to discuss ways to end the nine-year-old war in the country.
According to Al-Mayadeen, the delegation was hosted by the Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed bin Saeed al-Jaber after it arrived in Sana’a on Saturday. The delegation later met with senior leader of the Houthi movement Mohammad Ali al-Houthi.
During his meeting with the delegation on Sunday, Al-Mashat affirmed Yemen’s “firm stance towards a just and honorable peace” and emphasized that Yemenis aspire to “freedom and independence,” Saba news agency reported.
Al-Mayadeen reported that both sides discussed the possibility of a longer ceasefire, as well as issues related to the payment of salaries to government officials in Houthi-controlled regions of Yemen, payments from the sale of natural resources in areas controlled by Saudi-backed factions, an end to aggression, and lifting of the Saudi blockade.
Saudi-backed factions control most of the oil producing regions in Yemen. The Houthis claim that salaries of government officials in the country should come from the revenue generated by selling the country’s natural resources. They have also emphasized the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Yemen and lifting of the sea and air blockade imposed by the Saudis on Houthi-controlled regions for any lasting peace in the region.
Following the Houthi takeover of capital Sana’a in September 2014, then Yemeni President Abdrabuh al-Mansur Hadi fled first to Aden and then to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia alleged that the Houthis were a proxy of Iran—a claim rejected both by the Houthis and Iran—and formed an international coalition to wage a war on Yemen in March 2015 in order to restore Hadi to power.
Apart from causing the death of thousands of people and the complete destruction of the Yemeni economy, the war and the blockade have also created a massive humanitarian crisis with millions displaced and over 80% of the country’s population dependent on aid for survival. The current talks indicate a greater possibility of peace and have raised hopes of the people.
Multiple channels of talks
The Oman-mediated peace talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis have been ongoing for some time now, and have progressed due to the lack of any significant escalation in the conflict despite the official end a UN-led ceasefire declaration in October last year. The Oman-led talks run parallel to the UN-led peace negotiations that are taking place in Geneva.
The Omani peace efforts received a boost following an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran last month to restore their diplomatic relations after seven years. The rapprochement mediated by China has generated greater prospects for regional stability and peace.
Speaking to AP, UN special envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg welcomed the talks, pointing out that this is the closest opportunity since the beginning of the war in 2015 for the parties to progress towards a lasting peace.
The AP also reported that Saudi Arabia and the Houthis had agreed on a draft of a ceasefire agreement last month, which also lays the plan for a more detailed negotiation.
The draft agreement talks about lifting of the Saudi blockade on the Sana’a international airport and the Hodeidah port in return for the Houthis withdrawing their siege of Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city. It also lays out a detailed plan for talks between the Houthis and Saudi-backed factions in the country.
Saudi Arabia mediated a transition of power from Hadi to an eight-member presidential council last year in order to address the recurring clashes between forces loyal to Hadi and others opposed. According to AP, the presidential council has approved the draft ceasefire agreement with the Houthis.