Middle East

Yemen's warring parties agree Hodeida ceasefire at UN talks

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Negotiators have reached a series of breakthroughs in peace talks with the warring parties in Yemen, including a ceasefire for a vital port.

UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday announced a series of breakthroughs in peace talks with the warring parties in Yemen, including a ceasefire for a vital port.

If implemented, the deal on the Hodeida port, a key gateway for aid and food imports to a country where 14 million people stand on the brink of famine, would mark a major turning point after four years of devastating war.

The conflict between the Iran-linked Huthis and the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by Saudi Arabia and its military allies, has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with one child dying every 10 minutes of preventable causes.

The human cost of the war, as well as outrage over the October killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, has prompted the international community to take a harder line over the Yemen war, and particularly the role of the Saudi-led coalition.

In a highly symbolic gesture on the seventh and final day of the UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden, Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani and rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam shook hands to loud applause - although both later voiced scepticism at separate news conferences.

The weeklong talks, which closed Thursday, left a number of key issues unresolved. A new round of talks is scheduled for the end of January, with analysts predicting the US will continue to up the pressure on ally Saudi Arabia to end the conflict.

Withdrawal 'within days'

Under the Hodeida agreement, released Thursday evening, an "immediate ceasefire" should come into effect in Hodeida and its three ports upon signing.

"A mutual redeployment of forces shall be carried out from the city of Hodeida and the ports of Hodeida, Salif and Ras Issa to agreed upon locations outside the city and the ports," reads the agreement.

The UN will play a "leading role" in management and inspections at the ports, for four years under rebel control.

The rebels hold both Hodeida and the capital Sanaa. The Saudi led-military coalition controls Yemen's maritime borders and airspace.

Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse the rebels of arms smuggling from Iran through Sanaa and Hodeida. Iran denies the charge.

UN chief Guterres said the rivals had also reached a "mutual understanding" on Yemen's third city of Taiz, the scene of some of the most intense battles in the conflict, to facilitate the delivery of aid. No further details were given.

Rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam holds a press conference together with members of the delegation following the peace consultations
AFP

'More than expected' 

No deal has been reached on the future of the airport in the capital Sanaa or on economic measures needed to spare the population from further hunger.

Sanaa airport has been closed to commercial flights for nearly three years. The airport will discussed at the next round of talks, Griffiths said.

Lead rebel negotiator Abdelsalam said the Huthis had made "major concessions" on Hodeida.

Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani said the deal was the the biggest step forward since the outbreak of the war but remained "hypothetical". "We will wait and see," he told AFP.

Analysts said the Rimbo talks progressed better than anticipated, two years after the last negotiations hosted by Kuwait in 2016 collapsed with no breakthrough after three months.

"The Sweden talks have achieved more than anyone expected," the International Crisis Group told AFP.

"We have heard a different tone from the government of Yemen in these talks, and US pressure has clearly focused minds in the Gulf."

US Senate vote

The Khashoggi case, along with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, were the turning point for the US. The US, Britain and France are still the biggest arms sellers to Saudi Arabia.

Both the rebels and government alliance stand accused of failing to protect civilians. The UN last year blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition for the killing and maiming of children in air raids.

The US Senate on Wednesday voted to advance a resolution that ends backing for the Saudi-led intervention by 60 votes to 39, with 11 Republicans joining Democrats to back the measure.

If the upper house approves the resolution, it is likely to run aground in the final vote Thursday in the lower House of Representatives, where Republicans hold the majority until January 3. US President Donald Trump has veto right.

The Yemen ambassadors of core players in the conflict, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were in Rimbo for the last day of negotiations. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also met with both the government and rebels Thursday.

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