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'Humanitarian pause' plan for Yemen

Published 07/05/2015

A boy carries a bag of sugar to his family during a food distribution by Yemeni volunteers in Taiz (AP)
A boy carries a bag of sugar to his family during a food distribution by Yemeni volunteers in Taiz (AP)

Saudi Arabia and the United States said a renewable, five-day ceasefire in Yemen's war would start soon to facilitate aid to millions of civilians in need, if Iran-backed rebels and their allies also agree to stop fighting.

At a joint news conference, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom would halt air strikes in Yemen because it is determined to expand relief assistance to the Yemeni people. Saudi Arabia will provide 274 million dollars (£180 million) in new assistance, he said.

US secretary of state John Kerry said the so-called "humanitarian pause" would not start for several days, enough time for diplomatic efforts to convince the Houthi rebels and their backers to accept the terms of the deal. He said aid organisations also needed time to co-ordinate the best strategy for getting food, fuel and medicine into and around the country.

The announcement was made after Mr Kerry met King Salman and other top Saudi officials in Riyadh. Mr Kerry praised the king for seeking a peaceful resolution to Yemen's war and for inviting "all relevant parties" to an upcoming peace conference in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Kerry said the ceasefire would mean "no bombing, no shooting" and no repositioning of forces.

But he and Mr al-Jubeir insisted the feasibility of the plan depended on the Houthis and the Iranians agreeing to it and not trying to exploit the lull in fighting. They said they would provide an update tomorrow in Paris, where they will gather with the foreign ministers of other Arab countries.

The ceasefire pledge comes as the rebels and supporters of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh consolidate their hold over parts of the southern port city of Aden. The rebels captured the area's presidential palace, officials said, in another sign of their resilience in the face of Saudi-led air strikes.

Yemen had long suffered from desperate poverty, political dysfunction and al Qaida's most lethal branch. It became more unstable in recent months as the Houthis, who are Shia, seized much of the country and chased Yemen's internationally recognised president into exile. That prompted the Saudis and other Gulf Arab states to intervene. The Saudis have also been backing pro-government forces on the ground trying to fight back against the Houthis.

Mr Kerry met earlier in the Saudi capital with Yemen's exiled president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, and his vice president and foreign minister.

"Hopefully we'll see you in Sanaa soon," Mr Hadi told the top American diplomat. Sanaa, Yemen's capital, is controlled by the Houthis.

"Ah," Mr Kerry replied, "there's some work to do."

More strikes by the Saudi-led coalition throughout the country killed dozens of rebels, according to security officials. But the mission has shown no sign of achieving its ultimate objectives or pushing the Houthis out of population centres and restoring Mr Hadi's government.

The UN said at least 646 civilians have been killed since the start of the bombing campaign on March 26. Some 300,000 have been uprooted from their homes.

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