Saudi Arabia Calls Yemen Cease-Fire

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Saudi Arabia has announced a two-week cease-fire in Yemen, providing temporary reprieve for a country torn apart by war for over five years. Western senior diplomats hope that the cease-fire, which aims to allow the country to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak, could pave the way for longer-lasting peace.

Considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the conflict in Yemen has strained ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is leading a costly military mission against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and has been accused of indiscriminately bombing civilians. U.S. military support for the Saudi coalition has led to heated political battles between Congress and the Trump administration in recent years.

Opportunity for peace? Experts say the pandemic could offer both the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government a new avenue for peace. “The threat of COVID-19 is great cover for a cease-fire as it ensures neither party looks like they are giving in to the other,” Elana DeLozier, an expert on Gulf issues at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Foreign Policy. Whether the cease-fire can build momentum for lasting peace “will depend entirely on Houthi political will,” she said—something that is shaky as Houthi forces advance on Marib City, a government stronghold.

Bracing for the worst. Yemen is ill-prepared for a pandemic. Though the country has no reported cases of the virus, experts fear that might change or that it simply lacks the capacity to trace infections. The conflict in Yemen has killed an estimated 100,000 people. It has also left the public health system virtually destroyed. “The impact of the coronavirus on people already pushed to the brink would be devastating,” said Muhsin Siddiquey, the Yemen country director for Oxfam.

“Yemenis desperately need to be able to focus on the basics of keeping their families healthy—not dodging bombs and ground fighting.”

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