Houthi and Saudi-led forces agree to temporary cease-fire in Yemen

Houthi rebels have agreed to a five-day truce proposed by Saudi Arabia to allow aid into the country. The UN estimates that at least 300,000 Yemenis have been displaced by the fighting.

Hani Mohammed/AP
A girl waits her turn at a public tap amid an acute water shortage in Sanaa on Saturday.

Houthi rebels have agreed to a Saudi-proposed humanitarian cease-fire in Yemen, which would be the first halt in fighting since a Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in March. But relief organizations warn that with increasing airstrikes over the weekend, the cease-fire might be doomed even before it starts.

The Houthi leadership announced late Sunday that the rebels agreed to the temporary truce to “open the gate for humanitarian aid.” But both the Houthis and Saudi Arabia's armed forces, which are organizing the Arab-dominated coalition, warned that any breach by the other would be met with military force, the Wall Street Journal reports. Saudi's newly appointed Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Friday that if the Houthis agreed to the cease-fire, it would begin on Tuesday.

Yemen exploded into full-scale civil war in late March when the Saudi coalition launched airstrikes against Houthi rebels after they seized control of the capital, Sanaa, and drove the US- and Saudi-backed government, led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, into exile. The Houthis, a Shiite minority sect, had accused President Hadi of failing to implement power-sharing agreements he had promised when he took over from former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012.

Despite talk of a cease-fire, the weekend saw an uptick in violence as Saudi-led forces intensified air strikes on Houthi territory in northern Yemen. Late last week the Saudi military declared that the entire Saada region, a Houthi stronghold, was a "military target," and warned all civilians to leave the area. Some 70,000 refugees fled the region, and since then, the coalition has launched dozens of raids in the area.

A group of international aid organizations working in the region argued in a statement published Sunday that the intensified aerial campaign reduced the likelihood of success of the proposed cease-fire. "We are concerned that the ongoing intensive bombing of Sa'ada Governorate will do little to encourage all parties to conflict to abide by the preconditions of the ceasefire. Furthermore, even if a five day ceasefire goes ahead, the overwhelming scale of humanitarian needs on the ground means that it will make little difference to the lives of millions of increasingly desperate people," warned Hanibal Abiy Worku of Norwegian Refugee Council Yemen.

And Agence France-Presse writes that many Yemenis remain trapped in the region, due to a lack of fuel for vehicles and alleged Houthi interference.

"We are living under a very difficult and unprecedented humanitarian situation," said one Saada resident, who asked not to be named.

"We want to leave Saada but can't due to the financial situation and the shortage of fuel," the resident said. "The Huthis are also trying to stop civilians from fleeing."

Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the UN humanitarian coordinator to Yemen, said in a statement published Saturday that the targeting of an entire region, even if civilians were warned ahead of time, is a violation of international humanitarian law (IHL).

... All parties to the conflict must strive to avoid inflicting harm upon civilians, and must comply with the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. These obligations are binding on all those taking part in the hostilities, including coalition forces, the Yemeni armed forces and non-state armed groups. Issuing warnings of impeding attacks does not absolve the parties of their IHL obligations to protect civilians from harm.

The weekend's air campaign also experienced an apparent loss in the form of a Moroccan F-16 fighter. The BBC reports that the fighter, part of the Saudi-led coalition's air force, went missing over Yemen Sunday evening. Morocco said that an investigation is underway. Local Yemeni media did not make mention of the plane's disappearance, the BBC noted.

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