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Thursday Apr 09 2020
By
Reuters
,
AFP

Riyadh-led coalition declares two-week ceasefire in Yemen over coronavirus fears

By
Reuters
,
AFP

The Saudi-led military coalition fighting Yemen's Huthi rebels has announced a two-week ceasefire in the war-torn country starting Thursday owing to the coronavirus pandemic fears.

The unilateral ceasefire follows an escalation in fighting between the warring parties despite a call by the United Nations for an immediate cessation to protect civilians in the Arab world's poorest nation from the pandemic.

The announcement, due to take effect from 0900 GMT Thursday, marks the first breakthrough since the warring parties agreed to a UN-brokered ceasefire in the port city of Hodeida during talks in Sweden in late 2018.

"The coalition is determined... to support efforts towards combatting the spread of COVID-19 pandemic," Turki al-Maliki, the military alliance's spokesman, said on Wednesday.

"The coalition announces a comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen for a period of two weeks, starting on Thursday."

The two-week truce, which could be extended, was aimed at creating "appropriate conditions" for a UN-sponsored meeting between the warring parties to enable a "permanent ceasefire" in Yemen, Maliki added.

Read more: Experts warn COVID-19 could trigger deepest global recession in generations

There was no immediate reaction from the Iran-aligned rebels.Yemen had witnessed a lull in military action after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis began back-channel talks late last year. But a recent spike in violence, including ballistic missiles fired towards Riyadh last month and retaliatory coalition air strikes, threatens fragile peace deals in vital port cities.

Yemen, already the Arab world’s poorest country, has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted the government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.

The conflict, largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and regional arch-foe Iran, has unleashed an urgent humanitarian crisis that has pushed millions to the verge of famine, forced millions more to seek shelter in displacement camps and sparked outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria.

Saudi vice defence minister Prince Khalid bin Salman tweeted that the kingdom would contribute $500 million to the UN humanitarian response plan for Yemen in 2020 and another $25 million to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The United Nations appealed for more than $4 billion in 2019 for the humanitarian crisis and is expected to ask again for several billion dollars in 2020.