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Saudi Arabia’s new deal for the Houthis

The kingdom has maintained that the people of Yemen deserve a better life and war is not the answer.

Published: Tue 23 Mar 2021, 11:27 PM

Saudi Arabia’s ceasefire offer to the Houthis in Yemen is a major step towards finding a political solution to the crisis in the country that has claimed thousands of lives and has left millions homeless. The kingdom has taken the higher ground with this move that lifts the naval blockade and allows flights into Sanaa, the capital in the north of the country. Yemen’s conflicts have raged over decades and grew intense since 2015 after the Houthis dislodged the elected government in the south, which led to a military intervention by an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The coalition has regained control over the south, including Aden, but the Houthis have continued their attacks on civilians and military personnel in the country and against neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Recent drone attacks have been linked to the rebels, but Riyadh has shown admirable restraint despite these provocations that have drawn global condemnation. The kingdom has maintained that the people of Yemen deserve a better life and war is not the answer.

The latest peace initiative is backed by the UN whose emissary Martin Griffiths has working tirelessly for a negotiated solution to the conflict. The United States has also reached out to the Houthis who have not responded but the Saudi ceasefire proposal heralds a new beginning for Yemen whose destiny is linked the GCC. A stable and secure Yemen is important to the Middle East and the Gulf in particular, more so during the pandemic when living conditions have been made worse in the country. Under the Saudi plan, the kingdom would also allow fuel and food imports through Hodeidah port that is controlled by the Houthis. This would ease the suffering of the people who face extreme poverty. The ball is now in the Houthis’ court. The group have a moral responsibility to accept the Saudi proposals that have been made in good faith.

“The initiative will take effect as soon as the Houthis agree to it,” said Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the kingdom’s foreign minister. Details on easing of the blockade will be spelt out based on the Houthi response. However, the Saudi intent is clear. War will only lead to further ruin. In the past, the rebel group have backed out during talks and returned to violence at the behest of Tehran. This peace initiative is different as it has the backing of the global community led by the UN and also the United States. Question is not whether the Houthis will exit the Iranian sphere of influence, but when

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