A boy pushes a wheel cart with wheat flour, cooking oil and beans at an aid distribution centre in Sana'a, Yemen September 28, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

CAIRO: The US envoy to Yemen on Wednesday blamed Al Houthi militia leaders for the recent failure to extend the country’s ceasefire agreement, accusing them of making last-minute ‘maximalist demands’ that derailed constructive negotiations.

Yemen’s warring sides failed to reach an agreement to extend the nationwide truce that expired on Sunday, threatening to reignite the country’s bloody civil war after a six-month cessation in frontline fighting.

During a news conference, US Special Envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking said the Houthis ‘hijacked’ the negotiations by suddenly demanding the salaries of their military and security personnel be paid before that of Yemeni civil servants. Lenderking did not provide any other reason for the failure of the negotiations.

The UN-backed truce took effect in April, as the war entered its eighth year. The ruinous conflict began in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi forces seized the capital of Sana’a and much of northern Yemen, pushing the government into exile. In response, a Saudi Arabia-led Arab coalition intervened in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government to power.

Following the passing of the ceasefire deadline, small exchanges of fire were reported in the western governorate of Al Dhalea, while military reinforcements were deployed by both sides in the front-line cities of Marib and Taiz. The reports post-ceasefire could not be immediately confirmed by The Associated Press.

A Houthi official told the AP on Sunday that the UN’s unwillingness to provide written guarantees for several of the group’s demands proved the major obstruction to negotiations. The demands included the payment of employee salaries and the opening of Sana’a airport and the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah, the official said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

April’s truce had originally established the partial opening of the capital’s airport and the Red Sea port of Hodeida, as well as the lifting of the Houthi blockade on Taiz, the country’s third largest city.

However, disagreements over the opening and control of Taiz’s key entry roads has meant the city has remained under a Houthi-imposed siege. Both sides have reported several violations of April’s ceasefire agreement.

Government ‘determined’ to renew truce: FM

Meanwhile, Yemen foreign minister said the government wants to renew the ceasefire and will not escalate the conflict.

“We are determined to renew the ceasefire and address all problems through dialogue,” Ahmad bin Mubarak said during a visit to Morocco.

The UN-brokered ceasefire, in effect since April, had brought a sharp reduction in hostilities and facilitated moves to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation in the country, according to aid agencies.

Some 80 per cent of the population rely on aid after eight years of war.

Bin Mubarak said the government wanted to preserve those gains.

“We have not made any escalatory moves, despite the Huthis announcing that the Red Sea is a military zone and directly threatening ships,” he said.