AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis have made additional demands in order to accept Saudi peace mediation, including an agreement between the militia and Saudi Arabia, dashing expectations of striking a peace deal to end the war in Yemen before the conclusion of Ramadan.
A Yemeni government official told Arab News that Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al-Jaber delayed his return to Riyadh after the Houthis rejected Saudi Arabia as a mediator and demanded that the Kingdom execute a peace agreement with them instead of the group signing the agreement with the Yemeni government.
The Saudi ambassador rejected this demand. “Negotiations (in Sanaa) are difficult and complex and require more time,” a Yemeni government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.
Over the weekend, Saudi delegations led by Al-Jaber and others from Oman arrived in Sanaa to discuss with the Houthis a semi-final text of a peace agreement, endorsed by Yemen’s internationally recognized government, to end the war.
The agreement includes a six-month extension of the UN-brokered truce, inter-Yemeni talks for six months, a two-year transitional period, the payment of public employees in Houthi-controlled areas, the lifting of restrictions on Sanaa airport and Hodeidah ports, and the lifting of the Houthi siege of Taiz.
Houthi sources told Agence France-Presse on Wednesday that the militia was hesitant to accept Saudi mediation because certain Houthi religious and political figures perceive Riyadh as a participant in the conflict rather than a mediator and that a peace deal before the end of Ramadan was unlikely.
“The talks between the Saudi delegation and the Houthis did not reach a final result yet to complete an agreement that was expected to be signed at the end of Ramadan,” the AFP quoted a Houthi source as saying.
“The Saudis presented their vision of a solution and wanted to be mediators in resolving the crisis alongside the Omanis, but the Houthi political and religious leaders insisted that Riyadh be a party to the agreement and not an intermediary.”
The Yemeni government has long warned that the Houthi group’s “radical” faction would thwart any efforts to establish peace in Yemen.
A prominent Houthi leader provided a contradictory statement to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper on Thursday, saying that the atmosphere of their discussions with the Saudi and Omani delegates was “positive” and that a peace agreement might be signed “soon, as many points of contention have been resolved and the movement does not demand a Saudi Arabian agreement.”
The Houthis’ contradictory statements regarding talks in Sanaa surfaced as the prisoner exchange between Yemeni parties was postponed until Friday.
Without elaborating on the reason for the delay, Yahya Kazman, head of the Yemeni government’s delegation in prisoner exchange discussions, said the three-day operation would begin on Friday, with over 880 inmates being transported between Yemeni and Saudi airports.
Yemeni sides agreed last month to trade around 880 captives during the holy month of Ramadan. During the second major prisoner exchange since the start of the war, the Houthis would surrender 181 captives, including troops from the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, for 706 of their prisoners held by the Yemeni government.
Meanwhile, Tim Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen, who arrived in the area on Tuesday, said Yemen was enjoying a unique opportunity to reach an agreement to bring an end to the war.
“After over a year of intensive US and UN diplomatic efforts and support from regional partners like Saudi Arabia and Oman, Yemen is witnessing an unprecedented opportunity for peace,” Lenderking said, according to a US State Department statement.