Yemen’s Huthi rebels unexpectedly announced late Friday that they planned to halt all attacks on Saudi Arabia as part of a peace initiative to end their country’s devastating conflict, five years after they captured the capital Sanaa. The announcement comes after a wave of drone strikes last weekend on Saudi oil installations knocked out half of the kingdom’s production and sent shock waves through energy markets.
The Iran-backed Huthis claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Riyadh’s ally Washington has condemned them as an “act of war”, placing the blame on Tehran and announcing new sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Mehdi al-Mashat, head of the Huthis’ supreme political council, announced in a speech marking the 2014 rebel seizure of Sanaa “the halt of all attacks against the territory of Saudi Arabia”.
He added that he hoped “the gesture would be answered by a stronger gesture” from the Saudis, according to the rebels’ Al-Masirah television channel.
“Pursuing war is not in anyone’s interest.”
Yemen’s conflict has since killed tens of thousands of people — most of them civilians — and driven millions more to the brink of famine in what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
‘Blood of Yemenis
Mashat said the Huthis’ peace initiative was aimed at “bringing about peace through serious negotiations to achieve a comprehensive national reconciliation which does not exclude anyone”.
A major goal was to “preserve the blood of Yemenis and achieve a general amnesty”, he added.
The plan calls for rebels to “stop all attacks on Saudi territory by drones, ballistic missiles and other means”, he said.
He also called for the reopening of Sanaa’s international airport and open access to Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeida, a crucial entry point for imports and humanitarian aid.
The announcement was a sharp reversal from previous statements from the Huthis, who early on Friday had accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of endangering the fragile truce around Hodeida with strikes on four rebel targets north of the port.
The Huthis have been fighting against a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in 2015 to support the country’s internationally recognised government.
Iran denies US and Saudi accusations that it arms the Huthis.
The rebels have repeatedly targeted key Saudi infrastructure in recent months in cross-border attacks.
The September 14 aerial attacks sparked fires at two Aramco oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia knocking out six percent of global supplies.
It is the third attack in five months on the oil giant’s infrastructure, after the Huthis also claimed strikes in May and August.
Saudi Arabia has so far not directly accused any party of carrying out Saturday’s attacks, but said authorities have launched an investigation to determine the culprits.
Tehran has denied responsibility for the attacks against the heart of Saudi’s all-important oil industry, raising the spectre of “all-out war” in the event of retaliatory measures by Washington or Riyadh.
The rhetoric has raised the risk of an unpredictable escalation in a tinderbox region where Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-old struggle for dominance.