Saudi delegation in Yemen to broker peace with rebels

The rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran raises hope in Sanaa. A Saudi delegation traveled to Yemen’s capital on Sunday to broker a new truce with Iran-backed Houthi rebels, as Saudi Arabia seeks a way out of the war.

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, was received by the rebels’ political leader, Mehdi Machat, according to Houthi media, Saba news agency and Al-Massira TV channel. The latter broadcast images showing the two men shaking hands. The Saudi negotiators came “to discuss ways to move forward towards the establishment of peace”, also indicated two Yemeni diplomats working in the Gulf and who requested anonymity.

Rare and limited encounters

Like entire swaths of Yemeni territory, Sanaa has been under Houthi control for more than eight years. The military coalition led by neighboring Saudi Arabia since 2015 in support of pro-government forces has failed to dislodge the insurgents. Saudi officials have visited Sanaa in the past, but visits are rare and often limited. But while Sunni Saudi Arabia has been trying for several months to extricate itself from this quagmire, the recent rapprochement with its great regional rival, Shia Iran, has fueled hopes for an appeasement in the Middle East, in particular in the Yemen.

Arrived on Saturday, Omani mediators are also in Sanaa to allow the signing of an agreement on a lasting truce. A truce was indeed agreed a year ago and has since been largely honoured, but was not officially renewed when it expired last October.

A new truce under discussion includes demands long imposed by the rebels, Yemeni government sources said. The first is the lifting of the air and sea blockade maintained by the Saudi army on the country, preventing airports and ports under rebel control from operating without Riyadh’s approval. Another demand: the payment by the government, which holds most of the energy wealth, of the salaries of all civil servants, including those working in regions held by the Houthis.

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The poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula is suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The eight-year war has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, with colossal challenges like epidemics, acute hunger and economic collapse, amid declining international aid.

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