RIYADH/ADEN (Reuters) – Saudi and Omani envoys plan to visit the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, next week to negotiate a permanent ceasefire with Iran-aligned Houthi officials and end the eight-year conflict there and two people involved in it. He said talks.
This step indicates that regional differences have begun to recede after Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to restore relations last month after years of hostility and support for opposing sides in Middle Eastern conflicts, including Yemen.
The visit by Saudi officials to Sanaa is an indication of progress in the Oman-brokered talks between the kingdom and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which are running parallel to UN peace efforts.
Oman, which shares a border with Yemen, has been trying for years to bridge differences between the warring parties in Yemen, and more broadly between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. A permanent ceasefire in Yemen would be a milestone in achieving stability in the Middle East.
The sources said that if an agreement is reached, the parties can announce it before the Eid holiday, which begins on April 20.
The Saudi and Yemeni governments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Houthis, who ousted the internationally recognized government from Sanaa in late 2014, de facto control northern Yemen and say they are rising up against a corrupt regime and foreign aggression.
They have been fighting against a Saudi-led military coalition since 2015 in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and left 80% of Yemen’s population dependent on humanitarian aid.
Fertilizers and batteries
The sources said the discussions focus on fully reopening Yemen’s ports and airports, paying public servants’ wages, the rebuilding process, and political transition.
Saudi Arabia resumed direct talks with the Houthi group last summer after the two sides failed to renew the UN-brokered armistice agreement.
The United Nations hopes to resume the peaceful political process that would lead to a transitional unity government, if a ceasefire agreement is reached.
The office of UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg said it met with senior Omani and Houthi officials in Muscat this week and discussed ways to make progress toward an inclusive Yemeni-led political process.
After years of bitter rivalry and armed conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran, China, their largest trading partner, recently stepped in to work with both sides and improve relations.
Beijing, which is interested in stability in a region that covers most of its crude oil needs, recently brokered an agreement between Riyadh and Tehran to restore diplomatic relations.
In a further sign of progress in peace efforts in Yemen, the Saudi-backed government said, the Saudi-led coalition has lifted eight-year restrictions on imports destined for Yemen’s southern ports, allowing commercial ships to dock directly there, including in Aden.
This follows the easing in February of restrictions on the entry of commercial goods into the Houthi-controlled western port of Hodeidah, the country’s main sea port.
Abu Bakr Obeid, vice president of Yemen’s chambers of commerce, told Reuters that ships would not have to stop at the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah for security checks for the first time since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015.
Obeid said that more than 500 types of goods will be allowed to return to Yemen through the southern ports, including fertilizers and batteries, after they are removed from the list of prohibited products.
Since 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has imposed severe restrictions on the flow of goods into import-dependent Yemen, where the war has devastated the economy and contributed to what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
(Reporting by Aziz al-Yaqoubi in Riyadh and Mohammed al-Ghobari in Aden). Additional reporting by Riyam Mukhashaf in Aden. Written by Aziz Elyacoubi, Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Angus McSwan
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