ADEN – Yemen’s warring sides agreed to renew a two-month truce expiring on Tuesday, the United Nations envoy said, despite international pressure for an extended and expanded deal that would build on the longest stretch of relative calm in over 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.
Grundberg had been pushing for a six-month truce with additional measures, sources had told Reuters, but both sides have had grievances about implementation of the existing truce deal first agreed in April and mistrust runs deep.
U.S. 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, welcoming the renewal of the truce, said 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 U.N. 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 Saudi foreign ministry said on Wednesday the truce primarily aimed to establish a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and “start the political process” between the internationally recognised government and the Houthis.
It urged the movement to comply with terms regarding port revenues and to swiftly reopen roads in disputed Taiz, effectively under Houthi siege.
Both parties have been frustrated over truce implementation. The Saudi-backed government blamed the Houthis for not reopening main roads in Taiz. The group accused the coalition of not delivering the agreed number of fuel ships into Hodeidah port and flights from the capital Sanaa, both held by the movement.
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 U.N. is also pushing for a permanent ceasefire to enable the resumption of talks for a sustainable political resolution.
Sanaa resident Sufian al-Thawr said that without further measures to address economic woes and secure broader negotiations the truce would be “merely a warrior’s break” and that hostilities would return.
Since 2015, when the coalition intervened against the Houthis, Yemen’s economy and basic services have collapsed, leaving 80% of the population of around 30 million needing help.
Soaring food prices risk tipping more people into hunger as funding shortages have forced the U.N. to cut food rations.
“We want a truce that improves our standard of living,” said school teacher Elham Abdullah who lives in Aden, where the government is based after being ousted from Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.
University student Tah Abdul-Kareem said more was needed but “still, it is better than a return to war.”
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Mohammed Alghobari and Reyam Mokhashef in Aden, Abdulrhman Al Ansi in Sanaa, Idrees Ali in Washington and Lilian Wagdy in Cairo; Editing by Grant McCool, Christopher Cushing and Christina Fincher)