AL-MUKALLA: UN-brokered peace efforts to end the war in Yemen have made no progress, with the Houthis and government squabbling over key issues such as flights from Sanaa airport, halting military operations and airstrikes, and Hodeidah seaport revenues, a senior government official told Arab News.
During talks with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and Omani mediators, the Houthis demanded arranging unchecked direct flights to Iran, Syria and Lebanon, halting Arab coalition airstrikes, and easing restrictions on traffic to and from the seaport as preconditions for agreeing to a truce, the Yemeni government official said.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
The government has rejected the Houthis’ demands.
It insists on arranging inspected flights from Sanaa to limited regional and international destinations such as Egypt, India, Sudan, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It also wants the Houthis to stop their military operations before airstrikes are halted, and for seaport revenues to be deposited into the central bank in Hodeidah and used to pay public servants.
If the Houthis agreed to those demands, the government would then engage in direct talks with them to end the war, the official said.
“The Houthis are demanding that the ceasefire be divided: First halting airstrikes and then stopping military operations on the ground,” the official told Arab News.
The government is concerned that the Houthis might ferry fighters and weapons from Iran on direct flights.
The Houthis might also exploit the absence of Arab coalition warplanes to advance on the ground because airstrikes have foiled their attempt to make gains, according to military officers.
Griffiths and the US envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, have shuttled between Riyadh and Muscat to convince the Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthis to accept their ideas for ending the war.
Those ideas are an immediate truce, followed by other measures to ease the country’s humanitarian crises such as opening airports and seaports, paying public servants and then later resuming a political process.
Griffiths’ spokeswoman, Ismini Palla, said on Monday that the envoy had made progress in reducing the differences between warring factions that were impeding efforts to reach a peace deal.
“We are familiar with their negotiation positions and with the gap between these positions,” she told Arab News. “And we are indeed making progress in narrowing down these differences with the help of a renewed regional and international momentum aimed at helping Yemen find a peaceful way out of this conflict.”
The Kingdom’s initiative for ending the war, unveiled last month by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, has energized peace efforts and led to heightened diplomatic activity in the region to find a settlement.
This initiative includes a truce, reopening Sanaa airport and Hodeidah seaport, and resuming peace talks under UN supervision.
On Monday, the Yemeni government renewed its accusations about the Houthis not being serious about striking a peace deal, citing the rebels’ continuing military operations across the country, mainly in the central province of Marib.
During a meeting with the UAE ambassador to Yemen, Salem Al-Ghafli, Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak said the Houthis were moving ahead with a large-scale offensive on Marib city, putting the lives of tens of thousands of displaced people at risk.
The minister also warned that the Houthi military operation and its missile strikes on displacement camps in Marib would ruin peace efforts.
He renewed the government’s demands - that the international community pressure Iran to stop meddling in Yemen’s affairs by arming and financing the Houthi militia.