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Yemen peace talks: The end of years of civil war?

April 8, 2022

With a truce in place and peace talks upcoming, war-torn Yemen could be on the brink of a new era. But as the Houthi militia remains on the sidelines, there's only limited hope for a breakthrough.

Aid arriving in the port of Hodeida
This week, vital aid began arriving in the port of HodeidaImage: AFP/Getty Images

For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan is a symbol for peace, forgiveness and new beginnings. This year, for Yemen it might be the beginning of the end of the country's seven-year long civil war. 

Since 2015, an Iran-backed rebel group called the Houthi has been fighting Yemen's official government which in turn is supported by a Saudi-led coalition. 

On April 2, a cease fire came into effect ahead of Ramadan and the country is currently experiencing the first nationwide truce in six years.

This Thursday, the country's president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, said  he was stepping down and handed over his duties to a newly formed presidential council.

The new eight-member council will be chaired by Rashad al-Alimi who served as interior minister and former deputy prime minister under president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was killed in 2017 by Houthi rebels.

Houthi rebels sit on a truck in Sanaa
It's still unclear whether the Houthis will talk to the new Yemeni councilImage: Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS

A further 50-member consultative body, the reconciliation committee, will support the presidential council, and a nine-member legal committee will draft internal guidelines for the council within 45 days.

Most importantly, however, the council has the authority to hold talks with the Houthi militia to find a solution to the ongoing violence in Yemen.

In his speech, outgoing President Hadi said the council will "negotiate with the Houthis to reach a ceasefire all over Yemen and sit at the negotiating table to reach a final political solution."

However, the Houthi militia did neither take part in the preceding talks in the Saudi capital Riyadh, nor are they represented in the presidential council.

The Houthis therefore were quick to dismiss the new council, dashing hopes for quick progress towards peace. "Yemen's present and future is decided inside Yemen, and any activity outside its borders is a skit and entertainment games played by the countries of aggression," Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam said.

Internal divisions

"I am a bit skeptical of how well they will play with each other, as the members of the presidential council come from various backgrounds with different agendas," according to Hisham Al-Omeisy, a conflict analyst who himself once was imprisoned by the Houthi fighters.

For instance, some council members represent groups that seek a split from the Houthi north of the country, while others want to maintain the unity of the country. 

Mohammed bin Salman with the eight members of the Yemeni presidential council
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with the eight members of the new presidential councilImage: Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/REUTERS

"And that's just one of the issues they will have to deal with. Other issues are the streamlining of the military and the security organizations inside the country. Who gets to control the military apparatus, the internal security apparatus, the ministry of defense?" Al-Omeisy told DW.

Overall, the country's situation remains very difficult. After seven years of proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the infrastructure is severely damaged and the country is seeing a devastating humanitarian crisis exacerbated by drought, the COVID pandemic, and faltering gas imports due to the war in Ukraine.

The UN estimates that by the end of 2021, around 377,000 people died as a result of the conflict. About 24.1 million people — 80% of the population — are in need of humanitarian aid and more than three million have been displaced from their homes since 2015. 

Yemenis waiting to receive a free fast-breaking "Iftar" meal during Ramadan
Yemenis waiting to receive a free fast-breaking "Iftar" meal during RamadanImage: Mohammed Huwais/AFP

In desperate need of aid

Neighbour   Saudi Arabia which itself is involved in the fighting was quick to respond to the new developments in Yemen.

According to Saudi state media, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which is fighting alongside the Saudis will each send $1bn (€900 million) to Yemen.

Saudi Arabia will grant an additional $1bn for buying oil and to support development projects.

Riyadh will also grant $300m (€275m) for the humanitarian response plan announced by the UN in 2022.

"This amount of financial aid is certainly a big step, and at the same time a drop in the ocean," Jens Heibach, research fellow at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), told DW.

map of Yemen and Saudi Arabia

He explained that the country was devastated by the war and that "compared to what the UN has been asking for to ensure humanitarian aid for the next year, this amount is insignificant," adding that "while the money is important, it is not guaranteed that it will actually arrive, into which channels it will flow and to what extent the Houthis will be able to negotiate, for example, how it will be used."

And yet, despite those uncertainties, the financial aid and the establishment of the presidential council are widely regarded as positive steps that could bear fruit.

A mother and a starving toddler at a hospital.
More than 144,000 children have died as a result of the war, according to the UNImage: Mohammed Hamoud/AA/picture alliance

UN efforts continue

Already ahead of the latest political developments, the UN had been pushing for peace between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi group.

For this, the UN special envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg had laid out a new framework for talks, which de facto ignored the existing UN Security Council resolution 2216.

Thatresolution had called for Houthi disarmament and territorial surrender. Up until a few weeks ago, the Saudi-led coalition had insisted on those conditions.

"Hans Grundberg has basically eroded resolution 2216 allowing for a face-keeping solution for Saudi Arabia," Heibach told DW.

In detail, it was agreed that the Houthi group could keep its arms but would stop firing cruise missiles, and that the Saudis partially lifted the blockade of Houthi-controlled ports and the airport Sanaa.

The deal has already led to first results. This week, a ship arrived in the port of Hodeida, delivering food and medicine.

The Panama-flagged bulk carrier brought medicines and other goods to Yemen's Hodaida port
This cargo ship brought medicine and other vital goods to the port of Hodeida this week Image: AFP/Getty Images

Yemen sees first nationwide truce since 2016

Edited by: Andreas lllmer

Jennifer Holleis
Jennifer Holleis Jennifer Holleis is an editor and commentator focusing on the Middle East and North Africa.
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