Saudi Arabia will contribute $500 million to the United Nations humanitarian response plan for Yemen in 2020 and $25 million to help combat the spread of the new coronavirus, the Kingdom’s Vice Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman, said on Thursday. No confirmed cases of Covid 19 have been reported so far in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting the Iranian-aligned Houthi militants in a war to restore the legitimacy of governance and security.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has declared a two-week ceasefire in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the war-torn country, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA). The ceasefire in the five-year conflict was set to begin Thursday, according to coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Malki. SPA said the move was prompted by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a pause of hostilities in the country to counter the spread of Covid-19.
The coronavirus has now infected more than 1.5 million people and killed over 88,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. Al-Malki also said the temporary ceasefire would pave the way for talks between the Saudi-backed government in Aden, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels based in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa. The ceasefire would create the environment for the UN “to hold a meeting between the legitimate government and the Houthis, and a military team from the (Saudi-led) coalition under the supervision of the UN envoy to discuss his proposals on the steps and mechanisms to implement a permanent ceasefire in Yemen,” said Al-Malki, according to SPA.
The UN welcomed Saudi Arabia’s announcement. “I am grateful to Saudi Arabia and the Arab Coalition for recognizing and acting on this critical moment for Yemen,” Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths said in a UN statement Wednesday. “The parties must now utilize this opportunity and cease immediately all hostilities with the utmost urgency, and make progress towards comprehensive and sustainable peace”.
The coalition is determined to support efforts towards combatting the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Riyadh-led military coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels has declared a two-week ceasefire in the country starting Thursday in a bid to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The unilateral ceasefire follows an escalation in fighting between the warring parties despite a call by the United Nations for an immediate cessation to protect civilians in the Arab world’s poorest nation from the pandemic.
The announcement, due to take effect from 0900 GMT Thursday, marks the first breakthrough since the warring parties agreed to an UN-brokered ceasefire in the port city of Hodeida during talks in Sweden in late 2018. “The coalition announces a comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen for a period of two weeks, starting on Thursday.” The two-week truce, which could be extended, was aimed at creating “appropriate conditions” for an UN-sponsored meeting between the warring parties to enable a “permanent ceasefire” in Yemen, Al-Maliki added.
There was no immediate reaction from the Iran-aligned rebels. But hours before the announcement, the rebels released a comprehensive document that called for a withdrawal of foreign troops and the end of the coalition’s blockade on Yemen’s land, sea, and airports. The coalition, which launched its military intervention to support Yemen’s internationally recognized government in 2015, said it was fully committed to a two-week ceasefire. But when asked whether it will respond if the rebels persist with attacks during the truce, a Saudi official said it reserved the right to “defend our people”.
Saudi deputy defense minister Prince Khalid bin Salman called on the rebels to “show goodwill” by seriously engaging in dialogue. “The two-week ceasefire will hopefully create a more effective climate to deescalate tensions, work with (Griffiths) towards a sustainable political settlement,” Prince Khalid said on Twitter. The United Nations has repeatedly called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Yemen to help avert potentially disastrous consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.
Yemen’s broken healthcare system has so far recorded no cases of the Covid-19 illness, but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic. Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels had all welcomed an appeal from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an “immediate global ceasefire” to help avert disaster for vulnerable people in conflict zones.
It is most important to watch if the Houthis will stop their military operations, said political analysts. Fighting recently escalated again between the Houthis and Riyadh-backed Yemeni troops around the strategic northern districts of Al-Jouf and Marib, ending a months-long lull. And Saudi air defenses intercepted Yemeni rebel missiles over Riyadh and the border city of Jizan late last month, leaving two civilians wounded in the curfew-locked capital, state media reported.
It was the first major assault on Saudi Arabia since the Houthi rebels offered last September to halt attacks on the Kingdom after devastating assaults on Saudi oil installations. Last week, the coalition carried out multiple airstrikes on Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sanaa in retaliation for the missile strikes. Despite all this, Saudi Arabia has airlifted critical supplies to Yemen to help the war-torn country combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Announcing details of the airlift, the World Health Organisation (WHO) thanked the Kingdom. “Special thanks to Saudi Arabia for airlifting critical WHO supplies to Yemen, including personal protective items for health workers and lab screening tests for Aden and Sanaa. The shipment also includes trauma medicines and supplies to support the ongoing response to the crisis,” WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean said in a tweet.
The airlift follows a meeting held by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSRelief) to assess Yemen’s health needs to deal with the pandemic. The meeting was attended by Yemeni Health Minister Dr. Nasser Baoum, a representative from Yemen’s High Relief Committee and the WHO’s representative in the Gulf Cooperation Council along with KSRelief representatives
They discussed KSRelief’s ability to help Yemen combat the deadly outbreak by providing medicine, medical devices and equipment, and preventive supplies by land, sea, and air. Recently, the Yemeni government received medical assistance worth $3.5 million from KSRelief, including medications and supplies. Upon receiving the aid, Health Minister Baoum thanked Saudi Arabia for its generous support for the Yemeni government and people, appreciating the efforts of the KSRelief in various relief and development fields.