A Shiite Huthi rebel stands on a vehicle mounted with a machine-gun during a gathering to mobilise more fighters to battlefronts to fight Yemeni pro-government forces, on June 18, 2017, in the capital Sanaa. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS        (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Yemen's warring parties sign 2-month truce
19:48 - Source: CNN
Abu Dhabi, UAE CNN  — 

Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to a nationwide truce for the first time since 2016. Meant to last for two months but eligible for renewal, it is the most significant step towards ending the hostilities since the war began seven years ago, and a win for United Nations and United States mediators who for the past year have been trying to engineer a permanent peace deal.

The truce, agreed late last week, is meant to halt all military operations in Yemen and across its borders. It will also allow fuel imports into rebel-held areas, as well as allow certain flights to operate from Sana’a airport, according to the UN envoy.

The Yemen war has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the conflict is fought between a Saudi-led military coalition and the Houthi rebel group, which is backed by Tehran. Both countries have welcomed the ceasefire.

“I think it’s very interesting that you have both of these countries, who have struggled in their own relationship, both welcoming this important development,” US special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Tuesday, adding that Iran’s support for the truce gives it an opportunity to follow through with efforts to deescalate regional conflicts.

“My hope is that with the steps of the last couple of days, we’re turning a corner,” he said.

CNN spoke to Peter Salisbury, senior Yemen analyst at International Crisis Group, about what the latest truce means for the war.

How different is this truce from previous ones?

The main difference with previous ceasefires is that it is time-bound — it is scheduled to last two months — and is not yet tied to a broader initiative beyond limited aims of letting fuel ships into Hodeidah port, reopening Sana’a airport to a small number of flights, and initiating talks over road access to the besieged city of Taiz.

How long have the other ceasefires lasted? What is the likelihood this one will?

This is the first nationwide truce since the period around peace talks in Kuwait in 2016. The Houthis and the Saudis directly oversaw a de-escalation of fighting in 2019. And of course, the UN negotiated a ceasefire around Hodeidah city in 2018.

The best-case scenario for the truce (which it should be noted is an informal and effectively self-policing agreement, unlike the Hodeidah ceasefire, which was at least partially monitored by the UN) is that it leads to the kind of holding pattern we saw around Hodeidah: sporadic fighting, shelling, and airstrikes, but nothing the parties consider a total violation, and significant shift in territorial control.

What do you make of the timing, as it is so close to the Iran deal?

There is of course going to be a lot of speculation about ties to the Iran deal, but I am yet to see any clear-cut evidence of links between the two. In reality, shifts in the internal conflict and the cross-border war between the Houthis and the Saudis — which saw the Houthis attack the UAE with missiles and drones in January and February — seem to have played the bigger role. UAE-aligned forces took back territory from the Houthis in January and significantly complicated their efforts to take Marib city and governorate by force. The Houthis responded with a fresh wave of attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE. For the time being at least, it’s clear that the status quo doesn’t work to the Houthis’ or the Saudis’ benefit, so they might as well give a truce a shot.

Where does this leave the internationally recognized government?

Given the Gulf-led talks going on in Riyadh, I think this is a broader question. The Saudis, with Gulf support, appear to be working to recalibrate the makeup of the [President Abdu Rabu Mansour] Hadi government to include a much wider array of factions. That would dilute Hadi’s role and influence in politics. The truce creates more space for this to happen and was allegedly pushed on the government by the Saudis. So, I suspect Hadi is not happy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Other top Middle East news

Israeli minister calls Bucha killings in Ukraine ‘war crimes’

In the country’s strongest denunciation yet of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid described the killings in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, as “war crimes.”

  • Why it matters: Lapid’s comments were in marked contrast to those of Israel’s prime minister Naftali Bennett. While Bennett also condemned the killings, he didn’t blame Russia. Israel, one of the few countries that maintains good relations with both Moscow and Kyiv, is wary of upsetting Russia, whose blessing it needs to carry out strikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria.

Israel’s coalition government loses majority

Israel’s government was dealt a major blow on Wednesday when coalition chairwoman Idit Silman resigned, depriving the government of its majority. She called for a right-wing government to be formed instead.

  • Background: Silman’s resignation, a step she said she took on ideological grounds, left Bennett in control of 60 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.
  • Why it matters: Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, says the government may fall if there is majority support for the dissolution of the Knesset - which is in recess until May 8th - or if there is a majority in parliament in favor of an alternative to the current coalition.

Turkey and US work toward mending strained relations

Turkey and the United States on Monday announced the culmination of months of talks to set up a procedure for improving their strained ties, eyeing cooperation in the areas of economy and defense. Ministerial discussions will follow.

  • Background: Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained due to issues such as Turkey’s acquisition of missiles from Russia, as well as different polices regarding Libya and Syria. In December 2020, the US sanctioned the Turkish defense industry after Ankara purchased S-400 missile defense systems from Russia and expelled it later from its F-35 fighter jet program.
  • Why it matters: The war in Ukraine has led to talks over ways to cooperate, as Turkey shares a border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, and has maintained good ties with both states. Turkey has been acting as a mediator in talks aimed at ending the conflict, rising as an important interlocutor between both Russia and the West.

Around the region

Egypt is airing its third season of the Ramadan series “The Choice,” a re-enactment of the state’s narrative of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution in Egypt and the events that followed.

Less than a week into the Muslim holy month, it has already become the subject of a social media debate on state narratives versus reality.

Written by Egyptian screenwriter Hani Sarhan, the show features several famed Egyptian actors, with Yasser Galal taking on the role of then-defense minister and current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

The show has been trending on Egyptian social media since its release on April 1, with many using the Arabic hashtag #TheChoice3 and noting the accuracy with which Galal’s voice and demeanor mirror those of the president. Others have been much less generous.

Egyptian state-backed media has praised Galal’s performance as Sisi, “who saved Egypt from the destructive plans of Muslim Brotherhood.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is the country’s oldest and most organized Islamist movement. Authorities have repeatedly accused it of promoting militancy and subversion, a charge it has denied.

One of its members, Islamist ex-president Mohamed Morsi became the first democratically elected head of state in Egypt’s modern history after protesters ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi was toppled by Egypt’s military in July 2013 in a coup d’état. He died in prison in 2019 while on trial for espionage charges.

Countering the tweets of admiration were furious voices arguing that the show’s portrayal of Egypt’s recent history is far from accurate.

“They will never know how to rewrite the history we saw with our own eyes,” said exiled Egyptian actor Amr Waked on Twitter, without saying what the historical distortion was.

Many in Egypt see 2013 as the beginning of a sweeping crackdown where freedom of speech and the right to protest were significantly curtailed. The government has denied the accusations.

Photo of the day

A Palestinian child waves fireworks on April 2, celebrating the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.