Saudi Arabia has submitted to Yemen’s demands to evacuate 50 wounded Houthi fighters to Oman for treatment ahead of new UN-brokered peace talks.
A UN-chartered plane will arrive at Sana’a airport Monday to evacuate the wounded combatants accompanied by three Yemeni doctors and a UN doctor, Saudi military spokesman Turki al-Maliki said.
The evacuation of the wounded fighters has been a key condition of the Houthi movement to attend peace talks in Sweden this week.
Previous peace negotiations broke down in September after Saudi Arabia refused to allow a Houthi delegation to fly to Geneva to attend the meeting.
On Monday, Maliki said the kingdom had agreed to a UN request to facilitate the medical evacuation “for humanitarian considerations and as part of confidence-building measures” ahead of the talks.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a ferocious military campaign against Yemen since 2015 without any tangible achievement. The kingdom’s latest push to seize Hudaydah ahead of peace talks hit a brick wall as the strategic port’s protectors put up a fierce resistance.
The Houthi movement and the UN were not immediately available to comment on the Saudi military announcement.
Yemeni protesters have slammed Saudi Arabia for its purported refusal to allow a Houthi delegation to attend the Geneva peace talks.
The negotiations were expected to take place this week, but UN chief Antonio Guterres has played down the early December schedule and said he hoped talks would start “this year.”
In recent days, the UN peace envoy Martin Griffiths has held talks separately with officials from both sides in an attempt to bring the warring factions to the negotiating table.
The fresh push for peace comes amid mounting pressure on Saudi Arabia over the high civilian toll and a serious deterioration of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The kingdom is also under scrutiny over the assassination of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Most Western countries, the US and Britain in particular, are accused of being complicit in the ongoing aggression for supplying advanced weapons and military equipment in addition to logistical and intelligence assistance.
The UN aid chief warned on Saturday that Yemen was “on the brink of a major catastrophe” as he wrapped up a visit to the improvised country.
Saudi Arabia launched its devastating military campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the aim of bringing the government of former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing Houthis.
According to a new report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, the Saudi war has so far claimed the lives of around 56,000 Yemenis.
The war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools, and factories. The UN has said a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.