Coalition says it will halt military operations to help create a positive atmosphere during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, in a truce Houthi rebels rejected, calling it "meaningless".
The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has announced that it will observe a unilateral ceasefire in the yearslong war, a move it said is aimed at facilitating political negotiations in the kingdom that Yemen's Houthi rebels are boycotting.
The coalition said it would cease hostilities in the brutal war starting at 6 am on Wednesday seeking to create a fertile environment for political talks and to jumpstart peacemaking efforts during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
"The coalition hereby announces the cessation of military operations in Yemen beginning at 0600 am (0300 GMT) Wednesday, March 30, 2022," it said in a statement carried by the Saudi state-run SPA news agency.
However, the announcement raised immediate doubts because no rebels are present at the Gulf Arab summit about the war in Riyadh. Other unilateral ceasefires announced by the coalition over the past two years have swiftly collapsed.
The Iran-backed Houthis are skipping the summit, called by the Saudi-based Gulf Cooperation Council because it's taking place in Saudi Arabia, their adversary in the conflict.
Within hours, a Houthi official Mohammed al Bukaiti rejected the coalition truce over the continuing closure of Sanaa’s airport and restrictions on the country’s ports by the Saudi-led coalition.
“If the blockade is not lifted, the declaration of the coalition of aggression to stop its military operations will be meaningless because the suffering of Yemenis as a result of the blockade is more severe than the war itself," he wrote on Twitter.
It wasn't immediately clear how the coalition would respond if the Houthis did not comply.
The United Nations, diplomats and others have been pushing for another potential ceasefire to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, similar to efforts for a truce over the past years.
Ramadan is likely to start this weekend, depending on the sighting of the new crescent Moon.
Houthis seek 'neutral' venue
The GCC — a six-nation club including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — began the talks on Tuesday in Riyadh. The summit is expected to continue through April 7.
The rebels, who over the weekend attacked an oil depot in the Saudi city of Jeddah ahead of a Formula One race there, have called for the talks to be held in a "neutral" country.
"The Saudi regime must prove its seriousness towards peace ... by responding to a cease-fire, lifting the siege and expelling foreign forces from our country," Houthi spokesman Mohammad Abdul-Salam wrote on Twitter.
"Then peace will come and it is time to talk about political solutions in a calm atmosphere away from any military or humanitarian pressure."
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh supported the Houthi position in a statement on Tuesday. He also noted Ramadan was soon and that a possible prisoner swap could help ease tensions.
"The plan proposed by Sanaa in good faith carries a strong message suggesting robust determination to end the war, lift the cruel blockade on people and resolve the Yemen crisis through political means," Khatibzadeh said.
Yemen at brink of famine
Yemen’s war began in September 2014, when the Houthis swept into the capital Sanaa from their northwestern stronghold in the Arab world's poorest country.
The Houthis then pushed into exile the government of president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, elected in 2012 as the sole candidate after the long rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh.
A Saudi-led coalition, including the UAE, entered the war in March 2015 to try and restore Hadi's government to power.
But the war stretched into long bloody years, pushing Yemen to the brink of famine and killing thousands of people.