After more than a year of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, President Biden’s special envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking said the warring factions in Yemen had agreed a two-month ceasefire brokered by the United Nations.
“This is a positive moment for Yemen and we must seize it,” Lenderking said in an interview with CBS News on Saturday.
The deal, reached by the Saudi-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthi rebels, was due to take effect on Saturday, in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The warring parties agreed to halt all military operations in Yemen, including cross-border attacks.
In recent years, the Houthis rebels have successfully launched multiple missile and drone attacks on neighboring oil-rich oil wells in Saudi Arabia and Emarati.
Most of those involved were quick to welcome the ceasefire. In a Friday White House statement, President Biden called it a “pardon for the Yemeni people.”
The Houthi rebels, however, were less enthusiastic. Prominent Houthi official Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said on Twitter that his “credibility would lie in execution.”
Lenderking insisted that the Houthis cannot use the truce to rearm. He also said the US “has not been soft on any particular party.”
“I think what you saw yesterday was a compromise that has advanced in a very dramatic way, in a way that hasn’t been seen in years, and our stance on the Houthis is not diminished,” he added.
Since 2015, the Houthi rebels have been in a brutal conflict with the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. The war has left an estimated 400,000 dead – many, according to the UN, from “indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure”. The conflict has left 73% of Yemen’s 30 million people in need of assistance.
International aid organizations welcomed the development. Oxfam, a charity working in Yemen, hoped this will be “an opportunity to prioritize the lives of Yemenis who need to end this grueling conflict so they can live safely, recover and rebuild their lives.”
Lenderking hoped “that this is not just another truce that has been called, another agreement that has been demanded and broken.”
He said the international community must “remain vigilant and focused to help the parties because there will be mistakes, help push them forward, support them”.