WASHINGTON – The United States and Britain called for an unconditional ceasefire in Yemen Sunday to take root “within hours” to end violence between the government, backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition, and Houthi rebels, supported by Iran.
“This is the time to implement a ceasefire unconditionally and to move to the negotiating table,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said from London during a press conference with U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
“We cannot emphasize enough today the urgency of ending the violence in Yemen,” Kerry said, including that the ceasefire should be achieved “as rapidly as possible, meaning Monday, Tuesday.”
Ahmed said he had been in touch with exiled Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the lead Houthi negotiator, Mohammed AbdulSalam. “Everybody supports this idea,” he said.
“[It’s] absolutely vital that there should be a ceasefire, and that the U.N. should lead the way in calling for that ceasefire,” said U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
The civil war pits the ousted Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is supported by a Saudi Arabia-led, U.S.-backed coalition, against Iran-backed Houthi rebels and supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The United Nations estimates that at least 10,000 people have been killed during the conflict.
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of bombings of civilian targets, including an Oct. 8 airstrike against the funeral of a Houthi leader’s father that killed 140 people, according to a U.N. estimate.
Saudi Arabia admitted responsibility for the strike Saturday, and blamed incorrect intelligence and improper procedures for the targeting. The nation said it would take disciplinary measures, award compensation to families of the victims and partially lift an air blockade to allow for the treatment of the most seriously wounded abroad.
The United States has supported the Saudi effort with aerial refueling and targeting assistance, but scaled back the targeting assistance in recent weeks. Following the strike on the funeral, which Human Rights Watch dubbed as “an apparent war crime,” the White House said it was “prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests.”
On Saturday, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said a U.S. ship operating in the Red Sea had been targeted again in an apparent failed missile attack launched from the coast of Yemen.
Two days earlier, the U.S. fired retaliatory strikes at Houthi-controlled radar installations after accusing the Houthi rebels of firing missiles at U.S. warships in the Red Sea on Oct. 9 and 12. The missiles did not reach the ships.
The call for a ceasefire came after meetings Sunday with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and senior United Arab Emirates officials. Kerry also met Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Saturday on the sidelines of Syria peace talks in Switzerland.