Saudis offer five-day cease-fire in Yemen to ease humanitarian crisis

Saudi Arabia announced Thursday that it was willing to suspend airstrikes in Yemen for five days to allow aid to reach millions of civilians caught in fierce fighting, but said any truce would depend on the cooperation of rebels who control large parts of the country.

“There will be a cease-fire everywhere or a cease-fire nowhere,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said at a news conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with Secretary of State John F. Kerry.

There was no immediate response from the insurgents known as the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia declared a formal end to its air campaign in neighboring Yemen on April 21, but bombardments and clashes between the country’s warring factions have persisted. The fighting has been most intense around the southern port city of Aden, where residents reported more shelling Thursday.


The conflict has killed more than 1,400 people, many of them civilians, and displaced about 300,000, according to the United Nations. Shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies have reached crisis proportions in many areas, aid groups say.

They have been calling for weeks for a halt to the hostilities to facilitate the delivery of desperately needed supplies and medical care to trapped civilians. In a statement Wednesday, 22 aid agencies working in Yemen said a humanitarian pause would not alleviate the impact of the conflict and called instead for an end to the fighting.

Details of the Saudi proposal were still being worked out. But Kerry and Jubeir, who until recently was the Saudi ambassador to Washington, said it would be a few days before the renewable truce could take effect. Diplomatic efforts were needed to persuade the Houthis to agree to the terms and humanitarian organizations would need time to coordinate aid deliveries, Kerry said.

Saudi Arabia plans to provide $274 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen, Jubeir said.

Kerry praised Saudi Arabia for taking the initiative.

“We strongly urge the Houthis and those who back them, whom we suggest use all of their influence, not to miss this major opportunity to address the needs of the Yemeni people and find a peaceful way forward in Yemen,” he said.

The U.S., which is providing military supplies and support to Saudi Arabia and its allies, accuses Iran of supplying weapons and training to the Houthis. Tehran has denied the charges and has called for an end to the bombing.

The Saudi-led air campaign began March 26, when the Houthis, who already controlled the capital, Sana, advanced on Aden and forced President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to flee the country.


The Houthis, who belong to the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam, have long complained of being marginalized in Sunni Muslim-dominated Yemen. They are backed by elements of the military loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was driven from power in 2012, and have been battling regular troops and tribal militias loyal to Hadi.

Kerry, who met with Hadi and other Yemeni officials in Riyadh on Thursday, blamed the Houthis for pressing ahead with their military campaign when the Saudis announced their previous initiative. At the time, Houthi officials accused Saudi Arabia of attempting to manipulate international opinion by declaring a cease-fire it had no intention of implementing.

The new offer of a truce came two days after the Houthis fired mortar rounds and rockets at a Saudi border town, reportedly killing at least three people. The Saudis responded by pummeling the Houthis’ northern strongholds, killing scores of people, according to pro-Houthi authorities and residents.

Neither the U.S., nor Saudi Arabia plan to send ground troops into Yemen, Kerry and Jubeir said Thursday.


Al-Alayaa is a special correspondent.

Follow @alexzavis on Twitter for international news