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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 January 2019

Hodeidah ceasefire gives cautious optimism for lasting peace

Critical first talks put Yemenis at the heart of any political solution

So far a ceasefire is holding in the vital port city of Hodeidah. AFP
So far a ceasefire is holding in the vital port city of Hodeidah. AFP

“It’s the first time the skies have been quiet over Hodeidah for many, many months.” So said UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, as the ceasefire produced by his UN-led talks in Sweden appeared to hold. It is worth reiterating how significant recent developments in Yemen are.

Amid great optimism, UN-sponsored talks collapsed in September, when the Iran-backed Houthi delegation failed even to attend. But just three months on, with fighting having abated between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition battling to reinstate Yemen’s legitimate government, fresh talks in Rimbo this month yielded unprecedented success. As both sides mixed freely in the icy Swedish town, agreements were thrashed out on prisoner exchange and Hodeidah, a vital port city and the gateway for all humanitarian aid to Yemen.

With 14 million Yemenis on the brink of famine, the hand over of Hodeidah and its port to the United Nations is intrinsic to an end to their suffering.

Sceptics will point to reports of ceasefire violations. Indeed, in the first two hours of the truce, which came into effect at midnight on Monday, the Houthis reportedly shelled pro-government forces and Houthi camps east of Hodeidah airport were allegedly hit. But doubters overlook the extraordinary progress that has been made – both since September and during a year of tireless peacemaking – as well as the fact that the truce has since held.

In an overture that would have been impossible just months ago, the Yemeni government offered on Tuesday to include the Houthis in the country’s political future if they disarm and sever ties with Iran. The internationally recognised government has even pledged to giving the rebels a seat in Yemen’s cabinet.

Just as the Saudi-led coalition has done, the Houthis should commit wholeheartedly to a political solution, from which peace and stability can be salvaged. After intensive fighting to secure the vital port of Hodeidah and stop the flow of Iranian missiles and weaponry, the rebels are running out of options. They should use their remaining influence to push for peace.

As The National reported, a joint committee, including the UN and all warring sides, will convene today to discuss the next steps. It appears, after nearly four bloody years, that all roads now lead to a political solution in Yemen.

In Syria, another intractable war involving multiple state and non-state actors, peace looks far less likely. Well-meaning but thwarted at every turn, UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura is now dealing with Russia, Iran and Turkey instead of Syrians as he pursues peace.

By contrast, it is Yemenis sitting across from one another than made the Hodeidah ceasefire possible. Naturally, vigilance is required to ensure that the progress in Sweden, and this week in Hodeidah, becomes a road map for peace. But early indications lend cautious optimism that this time, it could last.

Updated: December 19, 2018 04:40 PM

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