Yemen’s warring sides have failed to reach an agreement to extend a nationwide ceasefire, the United Nations has said.
In a statement, the UN’s envoy to Yemen called on all sides to refrain from acts of provocation as the talks continue, after an October 2 deadline for extending the agreement expired.
The UN-backed truce initially took effect in April and raised hopes for a longer pause in fighting.
The devastating conflict began in 2014 when the Iranian-backed Houthis seized the capital of Sanaa and much of northern Yemen and forced the government into exile. A Saudi-led coalition, including the United Arab Emirates, intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally-recognised government to power.
In a statement, UN Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said he “regrets that an agreement has not been reached today”. He did not call out the Houthis by name for failing to agree to his proposal but thanked the internationally-recognised government for “engaging positively” in talks to extend the truce. He called on leaders to continue to try and reach an agreement.
“I urge them to fulfill their obligation to the Yemeni people to pursue every avenue for peace,” he said.
The foreign minister for Yemen’s internationally-recognised government placed the blame for the truce ending on the Houthis. In comments made with the pan-Arab Satellite channel Al-Hadath, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak said that Houthis had obstructed the ceasefire and gone against the interest of the Yemeni people.
“The government made many concessions to extend the truce,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis, but on Saturday they said that discussions around the truce had reached a “dead-end,” and that they were continuing to advocate for a full opening of the Sanaa airport and lifting of the blockade on the key port city of Hodeida.
The group hosted a large military parade last month, showcasing rockets and large weaponry, drawing condemnation from observers.
In the hours leading up to the deadline, a Houthi military spokesperson threatened private oil companies still working in the country to leave or their facilities would be seized. Yahya Saree wrote on Twitter that the fossil fuels belong to the people of Yemen and could be used to pay public servants’ salaries.
April’s truce had originally established a partial opening of the Sanaa airport and the Red Sea port of Hodeida. The ensuing months have seen flights start again from the capital’s airport to Jordan and Egypt. It also called for lifting a Houthi blockade on Taiz, the country’s third-largest city. But little progress has been made there after talks aimed at reopening local roads stalled. Another sticking point is how the salaries of public employees will be funded, many of whom have not been compensated for years.
Sunday’s statement came a few days after Grundberg met in Sanaa with the top leader of the Houthis, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, and other senior officials who have been pushing for a full opening of the airport. The envoy warned last week that the risk of return to war was a real possibility.
“Millions will now be at risk if airstrikes, ground shelling and missile attacks resume,” said Ferran Puig, country director in Yemen for the international charity Oxfam, reacting to the news of the truce expiring.
Analysts say it remains unclear if further talks could make progress, with Houthis feeling empowered and the coalition fighting them splintered by inter-alliance trouble.
Peter Salisbury, an expert on Yemen with Crisis Group, an international think tank, said the Houthis have been behaving as if they had more leverage throughout the negotiations because they were more willing than the other side to return to war.
Compared with forces fighting with the Saudi coalition, ″they run an effective police state and operate a pretty functional and motivated fighting force,’’ he said.
In recent years, the Houthi forces have deployed increasingly effective weaponry against Saudi Arabia and their rivals, including cruise missiles and drones, drawing accusations that their main backer, Iran, is helping the group obtain them.
Meanwhile, cracks within the anti-Houthi coalition have surfaced in the southern provinces. In August, United Arab Emirates-supported armed groups seized vital southern oil and gas fields controlled by other forces fighting with the Saudi-led coalition. Clashes between them and other forces from within the alliance have killed dozens.
But the truce has led to a significant overall lull of direct warfare despite claims of violations by both sides.
International charity Save The Children said that the truce had led to a 60 percent decrease in displacement and a 34 percent drop in child casualties in Yemen.
The conflict, which in recent years turned into a regional proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed more than 150,000 people, including more than 14,500 civilians, according to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.