Saudi-led coalition extends Yemen ceasefire

Saudi-led coalition says it will extend unilateral ceasefire in Yemen despite continued Huthi rebel attacks, in order to help the country focus on battling the coronavirus pandemic.

DUBAI - The Saudi-led coalition on April 24 said it was extending a unilateral ceasefire in Yemen by one month to support efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported, even as fighting continues in the war-torn country.

A two-week ceasefire announced by the coalition that is battling the Iran-aligned Huthi group in Yemen expired on April 23 without leading to a permanent truce. 

Despite the two-week truce, battles persisted between the Huthis and Yemen's Saudi-backed government while coalition jets mounted dozens of air raids on rebel targets, after the Huthi group said it did not accept the coalition’s ceasefire announcement.

The Iran-aligned rebel group instead has listed several of its own conditions for accepting the ceasefire. Consequently violence has continued in several provinces, raising fears that the war will grind on and shatter Yemen’s already weakened ability to combat the coronavirus.

The Houthis had used force to oust the internationally recognised Saudi-backed government from power in the capital, Sana'a, in late 2014.

“The coalition’s command reaffirms that there is still an opportunity to focus all efforts in order to achieve a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,” coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki was quoted as saying by the SPA.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month called for ceasefires in conflicts across the world to allow countries to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed over the past five years in the war between the coalition-backed government and the rebels, leaving the country in the grip of what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Earlier this month, Yemen reported its first case of coronavirus in Hadramawt, a southern government-controlled province. Aid groups fear a catastrophic outbreak should the virus spread among an acutely malnourished population in a country without adequate testing capabilities.

Additionally, several people have been killed in flash flooding in Yemen this month.