US official welcomes Arab Coalition Yemen ceasefire, calls on Houthis to reciprocate

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A top US State Department official on Tuesday welcomed the Arab Coalition’s recent extension of its ceasefire in Yemen, saying it will give negotiations an opportunity to move forward.

Assistant State Department Secretary David Schenker said the US administration was pleased with the “Saudi-led coalition’s announcement of the unilateral ceasefire” in Yemen on Friday.

“We are very pleased once again with what the Saudis have done. We hope and expect that the Houthis will join in, will reciprocate, and start negotiating in earnest,” said Schenker in an interview with Al Arabiya.

Saudi Arabia is part of the Arab Coalition that has supported the UN-recognized government in Yemen.

The Iranian-backed Houthi militia has not accepted the Arab Coalition’s initial ceasefire, which was announced April 8.

Arab Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki told Al Arabiya at the time the decision to implement a ceasefire was made to “stand with the Yemeni people.”

“We hope that there will be a reciprocation from the Houthi militia to hold this ceasefire,” said al-Maliki in an interview with Al Arabiya.

The Houthis have ignored the ceasefire, continuing attacks in several provinces in Yemen, including near-daily artillery shelling of civilian neighborhoods in the city Hodeidah, according to Walid al-Qadimi, the province’s first deputy governor.

Sunday’s declaration of self-rule by the country’s leading separatist group, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), has also increased the risk of fighting and complicated efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.

Schenker said that “now is the time for Yemenis to get together to come up with a negotiated solution for this conflict,” rather than break apart.

While the Arab Coalition is “demonstrating flexibility” in discussions with UN Secretary General Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, the Houthis are not showing similar flexibility, according to Schenker.

“It is going to take two sides to tango … we are going to need not only the Saudis … but also the Houthis to come to the table, to make concessions, to be flexible,” said Schenker, adding that Saudi Arabia is playing a productive role in fostering consensus in Yemen.

Schenker said the US hopes the Houthis will “start to abide by internationally recognized best practices in terms of humanitarian assistance,” especially considering the current coronavirus pandemic.

While Yemen has reported no COVID-19 cases, the United Nations warned Tuesday of a “very real probability” the virus is circulating in Yemen and that the country lacked adequate testing capabilities.