Saudi Arabia has resumed indirect talks with Yemen’s Houthi movement to cement a faltering ceasefire, sources familiar with the discussions said, as the United Nations pushes for a de-escalation to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak.
The Iran-aligned Houthis have yet to accept the nationwide truce prompted by the pandemic and announced by the Saudi-led coalition last week, and violence has continued on several frontlines.
The ceasefire was meant to take effect on Thursday, a day before Yemen recorded its first infection of the virus.
Aid groups say a coronavirus outbreak could be catastrophic given Yemen’s shattered health system and widespread hunger and disease after five years of war in which more than 100,000 have been killed.
Saudi and Houthi officials communicated over the weekend as Riyadh strives to reach an understanding on a binding truce, two sources close to the discussions told Reuters.
“Saudi Arabia is very serious about ending the war but it will depend on how far they can go to appease the Houthis and build some trust,” said one of the sources.
The renewed push came after the coalition conducted airstrikes on Houthi-controlled towns and villages, despite the ceasefire, to halt Houthi advances in al-Jawf in the north and towards Marib city, the last stronghold of the Saudi-backed government in central Yemen, local officials said.
The coalition spokesman and the Saudi government media office did not respond to a Reuters‘ request for comment.
The violence could complicate UN efforts to hold virtual talks to agree on a mechanism for a permanent truce, a coordinated effort to combat the coronavirus and confidence-building measures to restart stalled peace negotiations.