Yemen’s warring sides have agreed to renew a two-month truce, the United Nations envoy says, despite international pressure for an extended and expanded deal that would build on the longest stretch of relative calm in more than seven years.
“This truce extension includes a commitment from the parties to intensify negotiations to reach an expanded truce agreement as soon as possible,” special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said in a statement on Tuesday.
Grundberg had been pushing for a six-month truce with additional measures, sources had told Reuters, but both sides had grievances about implementation of the existing truce deal and mistrust runs deep.
US and Omani officials had also been engaging with parties to back Grundberg’s proposal following a visit by President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia last month, where he announced following bilateral talks an agreement to “deepen and extend” the truce.
Biden welcomed the renewal of the truce, but said in a statement that while it was an important step and essential to saving lives it “is not enough in the long run”.
“We urge the Yemeni parties to seize this opportunity to work constructively under UN auspices to reach an inclusive, comprehensive agreement that includes steps to improve freedom of movement and expanded salary payments and that paves the way for a durable, Yemeni-led resolution to the conflict,” he said.
The conflict pitting a coalition led by Saudi Arabia against the Iran-aligned Houthis, de facto authorities in north Yemen, has killed tens of thousands and caused millions to go hungry.
Riyadh has been trying to exit a costly war that has been a point of tension with the Biden administration, which halted support for offensive coalition operations. The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The warring sides have both been frustrated over truce implementation. The Saudi-backed government blamed the Houthis for not reopening main roads in disputed Taiz, while the group accused the coalition of not delivering the agreed number of fuel ships into Hodeidah and flights from the capital Sanaa, both held by the group.
Grundberg said he would intensify engagement with the parties in coming weeks to ensure full implementation.
An expanded truce, he said, would offer a mechanism to pay public sector salaries, the opening of roads, expanded flights from Sanaa and regular flow of fuel to Hodeidah.
The UN is also pushing for a permanent ceasefire to enable the resumption of talks for a sustainable political resolution.
Since 2015, when the coalition intervened against the Houthis, Yemen’s economy and basic services have collapsed, leaving 80 per cent of the population of about 30 million needing help.
Soaring food prices risk tipping more people into hunger as funding shortages have forced the UN to cut food rations.