BEIRUT — The United Nations announced Thursday that an “unconditional humanitarian pause” in Yemen’s conflict would take effect Friday evening, allowing aid to reach the devastated Arabian Peninsula country.
In a statement, Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said Yemen’s warring parties had signaled support for the truce. It is scheduled to last about a week, until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he said.
Such a pause would help aid agencies bring in food and medical supplies that have become scarce since a coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched an air war and established a naval blockade in March. The coalition is targeting Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, who deposed the Saudi-backed government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in February.
“It is imperative and urgent that humanitarian aid can reach all vulnerable people of Yemen unimpeded and through an unconditional humanitarian pause,” Dujarric said.
His statement noted that the political party of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has given “assurances” that it backs the temporary agreement. Military units loyal to Saleh have helped the Houthis carry out assaults in many parts of Yemen.
More than 3,000 people have been killed in over three months of fighting in Yemen, aid agencies and the United Nations report. On Monday, airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition and clashes on the ground killed nearly 200 people, including a group of civilians at a crowded market, according to residents and Houthi-run media outlets.
Aid groups warn of worsening hunger, increased disease and a lack of water in a population of more than 25 million. The United Nations last week described the country as “one step away” from famine.
Whether the proposed truce will take effect remains unclear. Already, at least one Houthi official appears to be putting conditions on the “unconditional” pause.
Deif Allah al-Shami, a senior Houthi official, said his movement and allied units of the country’s splintered military “welcome” the U.N. accord but would halt fighting only if the Saudi-run coalition stops its attacks.
“If the Saudis abide to the cease-fire and stop their airstrikes and the killing of the Yemeni people, Ansarullah and the Yemeni army will also stop any operations against the Saudis,” said Shami, speaking by telephone. Ansarullah is another a name for the Houthis, who also have been carrying out cross-border attacks on Saudi territory.
He did not say whether the group would stop its attacks in Yemen.
The announcement of the pause came after the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, held several days of talks with Houthi leaders in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Ahmed has already received support for a temporary halt to fighting from officials in Hadi’s government in exile, which operates from Saudi Arabia.
In May, a five-day cease-fire allowed aid agencies to deliver food and medicine to Yemenis.
Ali al-Mujahed in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.