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Good news from the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, peace negotiations in Yemen with Houthi rebels

Yemeni army/Photo by Cora Sulleyman

China strikes another diplomatic blow after achieving the “impossible”, namely making peace between the South and the Iranians. In the same area, Beijing convinced Riyadh to send an official delegation to Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, to negotiate a truce with Houthi rebels (backed by Tehran), who control the city. Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, was received by the political leader of the Houthi rebels, Mehdi al-Machat, according to The Seattle Times, which cites the Saba news agency. Al Massira television broadcast images in which the two greeted each other cordially. The Saudi negotiators came “to discuss ways to advance towards peace,” two Yemeni diplomats working in the Gulf told AFP on condition of anonymity. Like entire regions of the Yemeni territory, the capital Sanaa has been under the control of the Houthi rebels (a movement close to Iran) for over eight years. In 2015, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia (Yemen’s neighbor) tried to push the insurgents out of Sanaa but failed. On the other hand, since the spring of this year, it has been observed that Riyadh (a Sunni city) is trying to get out of this conflict, and the recent rapprochement with its great rival, Shiite Iran, fueled hopes for a de-tension in the Middle East.

Sources have told Reuters that the Saudi-Houthi talks are focused on a full reopening of Houthi-controlled ports and Sanaa airport, the payment of wages for public servants, rebuilding efforts, and a timeline for foreign forces to exit the country. Abdulghani al-Iryani of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies said it is clear that battle fatigue is being experienced on all sides of the conflict. The Houthis are happy talking to Saudis in the absence of other Yemeni parties, and that is quite a risk,” he told Al Jazeera from Amman. “Yemen is now controlled by different armed groups, and they control certain revenue streams,” Iryani said, adding that a minimum consensus on the shape of the state after the war should be agreed upon for fruitful negotiations. Yemen’s war is seen as one of several proxy battles between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Houthis, aligned with Iran, toppled a Saudi-backed government from Sanaa in late 2014 and have de facto control of northern Yemen. They have been fighting against a Saudi-led military alliance since 2015 in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and left 80 percent of Yemen’s population dependent on humanitarian aid. A Houthi official said on Saturday that the group had received 13 detainees released by Saudi Arabia in exchange for a Saudi detainee freed earlier, ahead of a wider prisoner exchange agreed to by the warring sides. At talks in Switzerland last month, attended by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels agreed to free 887 detainees. The 13 prisoners are part of that agreement, Houthi official Abdul Qader al-Mortada said.

By Paul Bumman

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