Hopes to end the year-long war that has so far killed around 6,000 people were raised when a Saudi-led coalition that’s fighting in Yemen stated on Wednesday that not only did it exchange prisoners with its Houthi opponents, but also welcomed a pause combat on the border.
A day after senior Yemeni officials stated that a delegation from the Houthis, who are allies of the kingdom’s arch foe Iran, was in Saudi Arabia for talks to get the war to an end, came Riyadh’s confirmation of a rare confidence-building measure in the conflict. Nevertheless, both the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni foreign ministers later said any formal negotiations to end the fighting could only happen under the auspices of the United Nations and must include Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
Just a year ago, and in an attempt to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh ousted him from power, Ryadh and a coalition of Arab states entered Yemen’s civil war. The Saudi state news agency SPA stated that Yemeni tribal mediators had facilitated the exchange of a Saudi lieutenant captured by the Houthis for seven Yemeni prisoners held in the kingdom.
Although, no further details were given by the agency, but some Yemeni media have reported that the exchange happened on the border between the two countries earlier this week. Adding to a Saudi statement that quotes the following; SPA also said: “The leadership of the coalition forces welcomed the continuation of a state of calm along the border … which contributes to arriving at a political solution.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said after meeting his Gulf Arab and Yemeni counterparts, that he supported U.N. special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s efforts to resolve the crisis based on U.N. resolution 2216, which calls on the Houthis to return power to Hadi’s government. However, he added in a news conference that the lull was important to deliver aid and medical supplies to people in northern regions of Yemen.
Saleh’s General People’s Congress party said in a statement it supported any efforts to bring peace to Yemen.
From another side, Yemen’s conflict has fallen into a stalemate, in which the Houthis still have power over the capital Sanaa along with other major cities in central Yemen, meanwhile its guerrilla forces have shelled and harassed Saudi forces along the rugged northern frontier. In what could be a goodwill message to Saudi Arabia, a senior Houthi official sought to distance his group from Riyadh’s main regional foe Tehran, telling Iranian officials in a Facebook posting to stay out of Yemen’s conflict.
Yousef al-Feshi, a member of the Revolutionary Committee which runs areas of Yemen held by the Houthis “Officials in the Islamic Republic of Iran must be silent and leave aside the exploitation of the Yemen file”.
When asked about the posting, Jubeir said he had not seen it but that it appeared to be a “positive” statement.
Sunni power Saudi Arabia has long accused Shi’ite Iran of trying to expand its influence in Yemen by helping the Houthis, who hail from the Zaydi branch of Shi’ite Islam.The comments by Feshi, who is seen as close to the Houthis’ overall leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, were the first snub by the group to Iran, long seen as its main supporter.
On Tuesday, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, suggested that Tehran could send military advisers to help the Houthis in Yemen just as it has done in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The coalition spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri, said Yemeni tribal chiefs had asked for a period of calm to let humanitarian supplies pass through but he declined to be drawn into commenting on the reported visit by a Houthi delegation.
“It is too early to focus on those who are carrying out this role,” Asseri told the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV. “Let’s focus on the result, that there be benefit to our brothers who are affected by what the Houthi militias are carrying out. We do not want to talk about individuals.”
“on the intelligence level about prisoners and other issues”, were the words used by Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdelmalek al-Mekhlafi to describe the talks in Saudi Arabia , adding that peace talks could only happen in accordance with the U.N. resolution.
“This is the only way forward with political negotiations. Anything else is operational and not political,” Mekhlafi said after the meeting with his Gulf Arab counterparts in Riyadh.