The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis halted military operations nationwide in support of UN efforts to end a five-year war that killed over 100 000 people and spread hunger and disease.
The move aims to facilitate talks sponsored by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths for a permanent ceasefire and was decided in part to avoid a potential outbreak of the new coronavirus, though no cases have been reported so far, military coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said.
The ceasefire goes into effect at midday on Thursday for two weeks and is open to extension, he said in a statement.
The announcement is the first major breakthrough since the UN convened the warring parties in 2018 in Sweden, where they signed a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.
It is unclear if the armed Houthi movement will follow suit. Spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said they sent the UN a comprehensive vision including an end to the war and “the blockade” imposed on Yemen.
“Our proposal lays the foundations for political dialogue and a transitional period,” he tweeted.
Hours after the coalition announcement, Yemen’s information minister said the Houthis targeted Hodeidah and Marib with missiles, while Houthi media said coalition strikes hit Hajja and Saada provinces.
Last week, UN envoy Griffiths sent a proposal to the internationally-recognised government, the Saudi-led coalition supporting it and the Houthis – who control Sanaa and most of northern Yemen.
Griffiths welcomed the ceasefire and called on warring parties to “utilise this opportunity and cease all hostilities with the utmost urgency and make progress towards comprehensive and sustainable peace.”
The adversaries are expected to convene via video conference to discuss the proposal, which calls for halting all air, ground and naval hostilities.
A senior Saudi official, speaking to reporters in Washington, said Riyadh hoped during the next two weeks the UN Security Council would help pressure the Houthis “to stop the hostilities”, join the ceasefire “and to be serious in engagements with the Yemeni government”.
UN and Western allies point to the threat of coronavirus to push Yemen’s combatants to fresh talks to end a war that left millions vulnerable to disease. The US and Britain provided the coalition with arms, intelligence and logistics support.
Yemen witnessed a lull in military action after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis began back-channel talks last year. A recent spike in violence, including ballistic missiles fired at Riyadh last month and retaliatory coalition air strikes, threatens fragile peace deals in vital port cities.
Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted government in Sanaa in late 2014.
The conflict, largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and regional arch-foe Iran, unleashed an urgent humanitarian crisis that pushed millions to the verge of famine, forced millions more to seek shelter in displacement camps and sparked outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria.
Saudi vice defence minister Prince Khalid bin Salman tweeted the kingdom would contribute $500 million to the UN humanitarian response plan for Yemen in 2020 and another $25 million to combat the spread of the coronavirus.