Does the end of Yemen’s truce mean return to full-blown fighting?

Yemeni government and Houthis failed to extend a six-month truce that saw a lull in fighting in the eight-year conflict.

Houthi official parade
The Houthis remain secure in control of Yemen's capital Sanaa, and much of the country's north [File: Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Yemen’s warring sides have failed to reach an agreement to extend a nationwide ceasefire, endangering the longest lull in fighting since the country’s bloody eight-year civil war began.

The truce was brokered by the United Nations in April and has been renewed twice.

The conflict began in 2014, when the Iranian-aligned Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen and later forced the government into exile. In March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition, including the United Arab Emirates, began a military campaign, backing the internationally-recognised government. However, the fighting has resulted in an impasse and has devastated the country, creating what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and killing 150,000 people.

Why has the truce not been extended?

  • Both sides blame each other for allowing the deal to expire.
  • April’s truce had originally established a partial opening of the Houthi-controlled Sanaa airport and the key Red Sea port of Houthi-held Hodeidah, with the ensuing months seeing flights resume at the airport for the first time since 2016,
  • The truce also called for the lifting of a Houthi blockade on Taiz, the country’s third largest city. But little progress has been made there, after talks aimed at reopening local roads stalled.
  • Another sticking point has been the funding of the salaries of public employees. Many of them have not received salaries for years.
  • Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, the Yemeni government’s foreign minister, blamed the Houthis for the end of the truce. “The government made many concessions to extend the truce,” he told the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Hadath.
  • For their part, the Houthis said discussions around the truce had reached a “dead end”. They want to see the full and unrestricted opening of the Sanaa airport, and the lifting of the entire blockade on Hodeidah.

What was the effect of the truce on the ground?

  • The ceasefire has brought a sharp drop in fighting in the war despite claims of violations by both sides.
  • International charity Save the Children said the truce had led to a 60 percent decrease in displacement and a 34 percent drop in child casualties in Yemen.
  • Fuel imports into the port of Hodeidah have also quadrupled, humanitarian groups said.
  • Sanaa residents say their daily lives have dramatically improved. Prices have come down as more essential goods entered the city.
  • Evani Debone, a communications and advocacy coordinator at Adra Yemen, a relief agency, told Al Jazeera the truce had given Yemenis hopes for peace. “Children who go to school are not afraid of airplanes any more,” she said. “Having the next generation of Yemen not being afraid and not running from the war, as well as having the right to live their lives again is the most important thing when we think about the truce.”

Will a new ceasefire be agreed upon?

  • The UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, said the efforts to extend and expand the truce for another six months had not been successful. “The UN special envoy regrets that an agreement has not been reached today, as an extended and expanded truce would provide additional critical benefits to the population,” a statement said.
  • Peter Salisbury, an expert on Yemen with Crisis Group, an international think-tank, said the Houthis have been behaving as if they had more leverage throughout the negotiations, because they were more willing than the other side to return to war. Compared with forces fighting with the Saudi coalition, the Houthis ″run an effective police state and operate a pretty functional and motivated fighting force”, he said.
  • For their part, the Houthis accused the Saudi-led coalition of failing to agree on measures to “alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people”. “Over the past six months, we haven’t seen any serious willingness to address humanitarian issues as a top priority,” a statement from the group said.

What will happen if the fighting resumes?

  • The Houthi military spokesman, Yahya Saree, has already issued a warning to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have been targeted in the past with missile attacks. “The [Houthi] armed forces give oil companies operating in the UAE and Saudi Arabia an opportunity to organise their situation and leave,” Saree tweeted.
  • Ferran Puig, country director in Yemen for the international charity Oxfam, said “millions will now be at risk if air strikes, ground shelling and missile attacks resume”.
  • Humanitarian organisations have called on both sides to put aside their differences and “extend the arm of diplomacy”, pointing out that aid to 23 million people out of a total population of 30 million will be severely affected.
  • The failure to renew the ceasefire is “a missed opportunity to help millions of Yemeni civilians out of the brutal conflict that the warring parties have dug the country into”, said Erin Hutchinson, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director in Yemen.
  • “We need the humanitarian community to support Yemen again to encourage both parties to have a conversation and also to provide the funds needed for millions of Yemenis who since the beginning of the truce could see again hope, but which again has been taken away,” Evani Debone said.
  • Just 47 percent of the humanitarian response in Yemen has been funded so far, she said, and more than 50 percent of that has been focused on food security, leaving other issues such as water sanitation, education, and health underfunded.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies