Saudi Arabia proposed a five-day cease-fire in Yemen to allow for delivery of humanitarian aid, yet the offer hinges on Shi’ite Houthi rebels agreeing to the terms, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Thursday.
Under the terms, the Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries would cease airstrikes in Yemen to facilitate aid to roughly 16 million civilians in need.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, at a news conference with al-Jubeir, welcomed the proposal and said work is being done to determine when the cease-fire would begin.
Kerry, who described the proposal as a “renewable” five-day cease-fire, said the pause would mean “no bombing, no shooting” and no repositioning of forces.
“This is conditioned on the Houthis agreeing to these same commitments,” he added.
Everywhere or nowhere
Al-Jubeir urged the Houthi rebels to halt attacks as well, saying: “There will be a cease-fire everywhere or a cease-fire nowhere.”
Earlier this week, Kerry announced the U.S. would provide another $68 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen. The money will be used to provide food, water, shelter, medical care and other aid.
The State Department said the money would help humanitarian organizations, which have been hampered by fuel shortages in the country, meet the needs of nearly 16 million people in Yemen affected by the country’s crisis, including about 300,000 who have been internally displaced.
Saudi Arabia will provide $274 million in new assistance, al-Jubeir said Thursday.
Despite the airstrikes, the Houthis and forces loyal to a former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have remained entrenched in areas they seized earlier this year and on Wednesday took an important district in Aden, leading to speculation about a possible coalition land operation.
Responding to a question regarding troops, Kerry added that neither the U.S. nor the Saudis are talking about sending ground troops into Yemen.
Kerry added that he was “very, very concerned” by Iranian activities in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
Earlier Thursday, Kerry held what he described as “constructive” talks Thursday with Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia in late March as Houthi fighters advanced from the capital, Sana’a, to the southern coast in an offensive that prompted Saudi warplanes to bomb the rebels.
The announcement was made after Kerry met King Salman and other top Saudi officials in Riyadh Thursday. Kerry praised the king for seeking a peaceful resolution to Yemen’s war and for inviting “all relevant parties” to an upcoming peace conference in Saudi Arabia.
Civilian deaths alleged
The possible cease-fire annoucement comes as the Yemeni government and human rights groups condemn what they called dozens of civilian deaths at the hands of Houthi rebels.
Yemen’s mission to the United Nations released a statement Wednesday that referred to the “latest barbaric events in Aden.”
Yemen accused the Houthi militia of attacking civilians, including women and children, in the Tawahi neighborhood of Aden, killing more than 50 people who were trying to flee violence.
They also accused the rebels and forces loyal to former leader Saleh of preventing medical teams from aiding the injured and of killing humanitarian workers.
“We urge the international community to quickly intervene by land forces to save Yemen, especially Aden and Taiz, and call upon international human rights organizations to document these barbaric violations against a defenseless population,” the Yemen statement said.
Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said in a statement: “I am gravely concerned by reports coming out of Yemen yesterday [Wednesday] with accounts of scores of people, many of them civilians and including women and children, being killed and injured in hostilities.
“Civilians were reportedly targeted while they were trying to flee to safer areas, having been trapped in Aden [for six weeks] with limited or no access to water, food and health care for weeks,” his statement continued. “Violence towards civilians and aid workers, and attacks on hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, must stop immediately.”
Human Rights Watch said Thursday that pro-Houthi forces killed two civilians and illegally detained a group of aid workers last month in Aden.
“The difficulty of investigating the fighting in Yemen may mean abuses like these in Aden are just the tip of the iceberg,” Joe Stark, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement. “The onus is on all factions and on the Saudi-led coalition to take steps to abide by the laws of war.”
HRW urged the Houthi rebels to avoid harming civilians and to investigate and punish any fighters responsible for abuses.