For the first time in several months there are renewed hints of a possible ceasefire in northern Yemen's Houthi conflict. President Ali Abdullah Salih has set out a revised list of six conditions:
1. A full ceasefire, the re-establishment of safe passage on roads, and the surrender of mountain strongholds.
2. Full withdrawal from all districts occupied, with no further interference with the responsibilities of local authorities.
3. The return of all military and public equipment seized during hostilities.
4. The release of all detained civilians and soldiers.
5. Agreement to abide by the constitution, law and order.
6. Cessation of attacks within all Saudi territories.
"With a serious commitment to these six points, we will see a full ceasefire begin immediately," an official of the government's Higher Security Committee told the Yemen Observer. "However, there is no grace period. We expect that the rebel forces would immediately begin the necessary steps to accomplish these conditions without procrastination or omission.
"In the past, the rebel forces have utilized the grace period as an advantageous time to stockpile weapons, plan fresh attacks and gain territory. This will not be the case this time," the official added.
The Houthi rebels are reportedly ready to comply "if there is a fair and comprehensive solution that will guarantee the war will never erupt again," according to their spokesman, Mohammed Abdul Salam. "The government should declare the ceasefire and sit with the Houthis and look to their demands."
The latest list of conditions is slightly different from the list issued by the government shortly after it launched "Operation Scorched Earth" against the rebels last August.
The earlier version called on the rebels to disclose the fate of six kidnapped foreigners (one British man and a German family). This became a stumbling block because the Houthis denied involvement in the kidnapping. The new list talks more vaguely about releasing "all detained civilians".
The new list also adds a demand to refrain from attacking Saudi territory – an issue that had not arisen until November.
On Monday, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, the Saudi assistant defence minister, visited President Salih carrying a letter from King Abdullah. What they discussed has not been disclosed (apart from the usual "brotherly relations") but this could be a further indication that a ceasefire is on the cards. Saudi Arabia officially joined the war against the Houthis two months ago.
Yemeni forces have been fighting the Houthis off and on for more than five years. The current round flared up last August.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 4 January 2010.