Security Council backs UN chief’s call for Yemen cease-fire
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Friday endorsed the secretary-general’s call for the warring parties in Yemen to immediately stop fighting and focus on reaching a peace agreement and countering the outbreak of the new coronavirus.
The U.N.’s most powerful body welcomed the unilateral, two-week cease-fire announced by the Saudi-led coalition that went into effect April 9 to support the U.N.-led peace process and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a truce.
Despite the announcement, violence in Yemen has been reported by both the internationally recognized government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the country’s Iran-backed Shiite rebels, known as Houthis.
On Friday, the Houthis’ military command accused the coalition of violating the cease-fire 82 times over the past 24 hours, with airstrikes on the central province of Marib and artillery attacks in the port city of Hodeida, the country’s main gateway for humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s official SABA news agency said rebel shelling of residential areas in central Bayda province killed a woman and two children and wounded several civilians on Friday.
Yemeni tribal leaders said government forces retook the large Khanjar military camp in the strategic northern Jawf province, which they had lost to the Houthis earlier this month. The leaders spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The council statement followed a briefing Thursday by U.N. special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who said the threat of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, has galvanized peace efforts.
Griffith said talks with the warring sides “are making very good progress” and that he expects them to adopt proposals for a nationwide cease-fire and peace talks “in the immediate future.”
But Mohamed Abdel Salam, a spokesman for the Iran-backed Houthis said Thursday the current U.N. proposal neglects a key rebel demand — to lift Saudi Arabia’s air-and-sea blockade, which aid officials partly blame for fueling the country’s humanitarian crisis.
The Security Council “voiced concerns about the ongoing hostilities,” called on the Houthis to commit to a cease-fire “without delay,” and urged both parties “to engage constructively” on Griffiths’ proposals and reach agreement “as soon as possible.”
The arrival of the coronavirus in Yemen, which reported its first case earlier this month, threatens deeper and more widespread suffering in the Arab world’s poorest country, convulsed by civil war since 2014, when the Houthis took control of the country’s north, including the capital, Sanaa. The Saudi-led military coalition intervened against the Houthis the following year, conducting relentless airstrikes and a blockade of Yemen.
Council members underlined “the vital importance” of access to humanitarian and economic aid for Yemenis in need, which is “especially important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, and Isabel DeBre contributed to his report.