The United Nations on Thursday announced a six-day humanitarian pause in fighting in Yemen to bring in urgently needed supplies for millions of desperate people on the brink of famine.
The truce is scheduled to go into effect on Friday at 11:59 pm (2059 GMT) and last until the end of Ramadan on July 17, and the UN hopes that further “confidence-building steps” can be thrashed out between the warring parties if it holds.
It comes more than a week after the United Nations declared Yemen a level-3 humanitarian emergency, the highest on its scale, with nearly half of the country’s regions facing a food crisis.
“It is imperative and urgent that humanitarian aid can reach all vulnerable people of Yemen unimpeded and through an unconditional humanitarian pause,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has received assurances from exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and the Huthi rebels who are fighting his crumbling rule that they will respect the pause, he added.
But the UN spokesman did not specifically state that a Saudi-led coalition which has been bombing the rebels for over three months had pledged to abide by the truce.
“We have the expressions necessary from all parties to announce the start of this pause on Friday, July 10th,” said Dujarric.
“It will be very clear come Friday evening whether this pause is respected.”
Yemen slid deeper into turmoil when the Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes in late March to stop an advance by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who drove the president into exile.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are demanding that the Huthis pull back from territory seized in their campaign and that Hadi be restored to power.
More than 3,200 people have been killed and over one million Yemenis displaced since the air war began.
– No bombing, no shooting –
The UN spokesman highlighted that Hadi had told the Saudi-led coalition that he accepts the pause “to ensure their support and collaboration.”
Discussions on the truce have been tough going, with Hadi and the Saudi coalition putting forward a list of demands to be met, such as the Huthi rebel withdrawal, diplomats said.
“A humanitarian pause means no fighting. It means no bombing. It means no shooting. It means no fighting. It means exactly that,” said Dujarric.
The UN spokesman said “confidence-building steps” such as the release of prisoners and a monitoring of a proposed Huthi rebel withdrawal could build on the halt in fighting.
More than 21.1 million people — over 80 percent of Yemen’s population — are in need of aid, with 13 million facing food shortages.
British Deputy UN Ambassador Peter Wilson said he was hopeful that the truce would hold.
“By making it this clear, both the need for it and the momentum behind it, I think the secretary-general has created the conditions for this to happen,” Wilson told reporters.
UN aid agencies were ready to scale up deliveries during the pause, although the response to an appeal for $1.6 billion was worryingly slow, with just some 13 percent of that amount received.
On Thursday, fighters allied with Hadi killed 15 rebels in an attack on their checkpoints in the country’s southern Abyan province, a military source said.
In the second city of Aden, 17 rebels were killed in air strikes by coalition warplanes, according to pro-Hadi military sources.
The fighting followed a car bomb attack outside a mosque in Sanaa on Tuesday claimed by the Islamic State group, three weeks after a similar attack on a mosque also claimed by the extremist group.
A week of UN-brokered talks in Geneva last month failed to narrow differences.