In the upcoming peace talks, international pressure on Riyadh might allow Yemenis to find a middle ground to end the three-year-long conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions.
After years of death and destruction, Yemen has a chance to see peace as the warring sides meet in Sweden this week amid a fast changing geopolitical situation.
Representatives of the besieged government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels, who control the north of the country are holding talks that are brokered by the United Nations.
The first direct talks in three years come at a time when the crisis in Yemen has finally evoked some response from global leaders.
Saudi Arabia backs Hadi against Shia Zaidi Houthis, alleged by Riyadh to be aligned with its regional rival Iran.
While both sides are accused of killing civilians, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that controls the airspace over the country has particularly been held responsible for indiscriminate bombings and causing heavy civilian casualties.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since 2015, after the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa and drove out Hadi.
What to expect?
Analysts describe the upcoming talks as a positive development.
“It’s a big thing in itself. The effort to start the negotiation has been on for more than two years,” Adam Baron, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told TRT World.
A previous attempt to kickstart the peace process in September didn’t proceed as planned. The Houthi leadership didn’t show up for the meeting in Geneva.
At the time, the Houthi leader Abdul Malik al Houthi justified the absence saying the Saudi authorities did not allow his delegation to fly out since the Saudi-led coalition controlled the airspace over the country.
The Houthis wanted their plane, supplied by Oman, to fly unobstructed without being stopped for checks by the Saudi coalition.
For the upcoming talks, the rebel delegation will be accompanied by the United Nations’ special envoy Martin Griffiths and with an assurance that they won’t be stopped for inspections.
Despite the distrust, the Hadi government and the Houthis are likely to agree on the critical matter of swapping prisoners. The two side are close to signing perhaps the first agreement of its kind.
A plane carrying 50 injured Houthi fighters flew to Muscat, Oman, on Monday in what is being seen as a critical confidence-building measure ahead of the talks.
Griffiths has drafted a framework for the negotiations, but its details remain unclear.
“It is a very broad document, as it only intends to be a basis for detailed negotiations. But I do believe that the arrangements outlined and referred to, will allow for an end to the fighting inside of Yemen,” Griffiths told a UN Security Council briefing last month.
Humanitarian groups have warned that infighting has created a humanitarian crisis. A recent report by Save the Children said an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five have starved to death in the last three years due to malnutrition.
That was largely the result of a Saudi blockade, which stops food and medicines from going into the Houthi-held areas.
Baron says a political reconciliation appears far fetched under present circumstances. “It’s really premature to say anything about that.”
Yemen, which was often dubbed the forgotten conflict, has come under increasing focus since the killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Leaders in the United States and Europe are pressing Riyadh hard to end the conflict.
In a major development, Germany, Norway and Denmark stopped exports of weapons to Saudi Arabia last month. In the US, an increasing number of senators are pushing President Donald Trump to reconsider his support for the Saudi war in Yemen.
The US and the United Kingdom are biggest arms suppliers to Riyadh, which has spent billions of dollars to bomb the Houthis.