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Saudi-Led Coalition Declares Two-Week Ceasefire in Yemen to Prevent COVID-19 Outbreak

© REUTERS / KHALED ABDULLAHA girl wears a protective face mask amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sanaa, Yemen March 17, 2020
A girl wears a protective face mask amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sanaa, Yemen March 17, 2020 - Sputnik International
Senior Saudi officials have announced a ceasefire in Yemen to begin on Thursday in an effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in that country.

A two-week-long ceasefire in Yemen will begin on Thursday at noon local time between the Royal Saudi Armed Forces and its allied forces on the one side, and the Houthi militant group and its allies on the other, according to senior Saudi officials in Riyadh.

The officials said the ceasefire is aimed at bringing the Houthis to the negotiating table for peace talks led by the United Nations, as well as to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, which has already been wracked by famine and disease for years due to the war.

The health system in Yemen is essentially nonexistent, but those facilities that do exist have been concentrating on addressing a cholera outbreak that has afflicted more than 2.2 million people since 2016, killing thousands. Medical supplies are hard to come by amid the continuing Saudi blockade of major Yemeni ports, and running water is equally scarce.

Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesperson for the Houthi movement, said on Wednesday that the group had presented its vision for an end to the war and blockade that would "lay the foundations for a political dialogue and a transitional period." However, Reuters noted it was unclear how the Houthis would respond to the Saudi move.

The war in Yemen has been raging since March 2015, when Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi fled the country amid a takeover by the rising Houthi movement. Hailing from northern Yemen, the Zaidi Shiite Houthis objected to a proposed federalization plan that they said would amplify wealth disparities in the poor country, as well as cuts to fuel subsidies by Hadi's government.

Hadi fled to the support of his allies in Riyadh, and a Saudi-led coalition that included the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan and others began an air and ground campaign against the Houthis, who control most of the country. The US also helped support this war effort. However, after years of a ferocious war that has killed more than 100,000 people in the country of 28 million, the Houthis have shown signs of turning the tide, carrying out daring air raids on Saudi military bases and even state-owned oil facilities.

While several attempts at UN-mediated peace talks have failed to yield many lasting results, quieter attempts at negotiation were being hosted by Omani King Qaboos bin Said before his untimely death in January.
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