Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen offered a tentative truce on Saturday, as Saudi Arabia and it allies bombed targets in the country in retaliation for a missile and drone attack on oil installations in the kingdom.
The announcement by the Houthi rebels came a day after they struck several installations in Saudi Arabia including an Aramco oil storage facility in Jeddah, sending clouds of smoke over the city as it prepared to host a Formula One race. The Saudi-led coalition responded with air strikes in Yemen.
The group’s political head Mahdi al-Mashat offered a three-day truce that would become open-ended if the Saudi-led coalition stopped air strikes and ended restrictions on Houthi-controlled ports.
The Houthi strikes on oil installations in the world’s largest oil exporter sent jitters through the oil market. Saudi Arabia, which has rebuffed US pressure to increase oil production, announced that it would not be held responsible for oil shortages if the attacks continued.
Over the past year, the Houthis have increased their missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, striking an oil facility in the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi in January. The attacks strained relations between the oil exporters and the US, which lifted the terrorism designation of the Houthis after President Joe Biden came to office. Both countries want more support from the US in facing the Houthis and the group’s Iranian patron.
Saudi Arabia and allies including the UAE intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis took over much of the country from the internationally recognised government. Fighting since then has led to a stalemate along most fronts and a humanitarian disaster in which hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have died of malnourishment and disease.
There was no immediate comment from Saudi authorities on whether they would accept the Houthi offer.
The Gulf Cooperation Council had invited the Houthis, along with other Yemeni factions, for talks scheduled to start at the end of the month in the Saudi capital Riyadh, but the rebels said they would boycott the meetings. They instead proposed to hold negotiations with Saudi Arabia and other coalition members in a neutral country.
Yemen expert Raiman Al-Hamdani said the Houthi offer could turn into a sustainable truce, “with many caveats”.
“The Houthis are becoming increasingly isolated and are being affected by the fuel crisis in the country and are feeling the pressure. Iran is also keen to begin selling oil again, and the Saudis really want a way out of the conflict, but couldn’t let the Houthis get away with so much particularly given the last attacks on oil production sites in the kingdom,” said Al-Hamdani, who is a former visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.