Riyadh: British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, criticised by some at home for British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said on Thursday he was hopeful for a de-escalation this year in Yemen’s five-year-old civil war, in which London backs the Saudi-led coalition.

The United Nations has been trying to relaunch political negotiations and Saudi Arabia began informal talks with the Iran-backed Al Houthi rebels last September. Riyadh had significantly reduced its air strikes while the Al Houthis halted missile and drone attacks on the kingdom, but a spike in violence since January shattered the calm.

Asked about the chances of getting back on track, Raab said: “I certainly hope so. I think that should be the aim and I think with political will galvanised on all sides, 2020 could be a year of change for Yemen.” He spoke to Reuters in the Saudi capital Riyadh after meeting Yemen’s president at the end of a Middle East tour that also included Turkey and Oman.

In meetings with the Saudi king, foreign minister and deputy defence minister, Raab also discussed trade, Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 and Britain’s hosting of the COP26 climate summit.