Iranian-allied Houthi fighters in Yemen accepted on Sunday a five-day humanitarian ceasefire proposed by adversary Saudi Arabia but warned they would respond to any violations. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia had said on Friday that the ceasefire could begin on Tuesday if the Houthi militia agreed to the pause.
Supported by the United States, a Saudi-led coalition began air strikes against the Houthis and army units loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh on March 26 with the aim of restoring the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The Houthis say their campaign is aimed at fighting al Qaeda militants and to combat corruption.
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“Any military violation of the ceasefire from al Qaeda and those who stand with it and support it and fund it will be responded to by the army and security and the popular committees,” Colonel Sharaf Luqman, spokesperson for the Houthi-allied army, said in a statement published by Saba news agency.
A Houthi statement issued late on Saturday said they would deal “positively” with any efforts to lift the suffering of the Yemeni people, a sign that they would accept the ceasefire. Houthis also asked for a political dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations to resume in order to resolve the conflict.
The ceasefire, which was set to allow time for donors to coordinate aid supplies, is due to come into force at 11 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday. International concern about the humanitarian situation has grown as the strikes have killed more than 1,300 people, sent locals fleeing from their homes and destroyed infrastructure – leading to shortages of food, medicine and fuel.
The Houthis’ acceptance of a truce follows intensified coalition bombing of Houthi strongholds in Yemen’s north since Friday night, when Riyadh called on civilians to evacuate the province of Saada, a northern city where support for Houthi rebels is strongest. Three airstrikes targeted ex-president Saleh’s residence in the capital Sanaa at dawn on Sunday, but Yemeni news agency Khabar said the former president and his family were unhurt. (Writing By Maha El Dahan, Editing by William Maclean, Alex Richardson & Kim Coghill)