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Saudi Delegation In Yemen For Peace Talks With Rebels

Motorcyclists drive past the closed Saudi embassy in Sanaa
AFP

A Saudi delegation was in Yemen’s capital on Sunday to negotiate a potential new truce with the Iran-backed Huthi rebels who control the city, diplomats said, as Riyadh sought a way out of the war.

The Saudi officials are “in Sanaa to discuss moving forward to create peace in Yemen,” said a Yemeni diplomat based in the Gulf region, information that was confirmed by a second diplomat.

Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The delegation’s arrival comes roughly a month after China helped broker a surprise rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, fuelling hopes for progress on ending the Yemen conflict that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The top Saudi and Iranian diplomats met in Beijing on Thursday, pledging to work together to bring “security and stability” to their turbulent region.

Omani mediators arrived in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on Saturday.

The Huthis seized the city in 2014, triggering the conflict with the internationally recognised government which has been backed for eight years by a military coalition led by Riyadh.

A truce announced roughly a year ago has significantly reduced active hostilities within Yemen, and is still largely respected even though it officially expired in October.

A Yemeni government source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said on Saturday that the Saudis and Huthis had agreed in principle on a six-month truce to pave the way for three months of talks on establishing a two-year “transition” for the war-torn country.

The deal is expected to fulfil key Huthi goals, including paying salaries of civil servants in Huthi-controlled areas and lifting operational restrictions on Huthi-controlled airports and ports.

Also on Saturday, the head of the Huthis’ prisoners of war committee told rebel media that 13 prisoners freed by the Saudis had arrived in Sanaa, in exchange for one Saudi released earlier.

Saudi officials have not commented on the report.

In early March, the United Nations confirmed that the rebels and Yemen’s internationally recognised government had agreed to exchange more than 880 prisoners.

Sanaa residents told AFP on Sunday that they hoped for a breakthrough that would go beyond a Saudi exit, stressing the need for a political resolution among their country’s warring parties.

“The visit of a Saudi delegation to Sanaa bodes well. We want the war to end. We are tired,” said 23-year-old Ali Hussein.

Abd al-Salam Shamir, 29, said: “The country is exhausted from the war, and we want all politicians to be one hand now in building Yemen.”

A 46-year-old teacher in the port city of Hodeida, who gave his name as Mansour, bemoaned the heavy economic toll of the fighting.

Like other civil servants in Huthi-controlled zones, Mansour, who declined to give his surname, has not received his salary in seven years.

“War is not just rockets and missiles, it also means the deterioration of our economic situation,” he said.

As talks on Yemen appeared to make progress, the United States said it had sent a nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine into the Suez Canal in recent days.

The USS Florida “is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and is deployed to US 5th Fleet to help ensure regional maritime security and stability,” Commander Tim Hawkins said in a statement.