Houthis will attend Geneva talks ‘if demands are met’

Yemen’s Houthi rebels are prepared to attend UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva if three of their demands are met, a member of the group’s delegation has told Al Jazeera.

The talks, which would have been the first in nearly two years, were scheduled to take place in the Swiss city from Thursday but have been delayed twice in two days after the Houthi delegation failed to leave Sanaa.

Hameed Assem, part of the Houthi delegation that was supposed to fly to Geneva, told Al Jazeera on Friday that the three demands from the Houthi group included “transport of wounded rebels to Oman, repatriation of rebels who have already received treatment there and a guarantee that the Houthi delegation attending the talks in Geneva would be allowed to return to the rebel-held capital Sanaa after the talks end”.

The Saudi-UAE military alliance, which has been at war with the Houthis since March 2015, blamed the Shia group for its absence at the talks saying it was acting “recalcitrantly”.

Hamza al-Kamali, a spokesperson for the Yemeni government, added that the flight to take the Houthi group to Switzerland was given clearance three days ago.

Yemen: Protests continue as Geneva peace talks stalled

“We are here to put an end to Yemen’s suffering … but today we are alone. The Houthis prove that they don’t want peace, they don’t believe in peace,” said al-Kamali on Thursday.

“We want them to come, and we are pushing them to come. [However] if they don’t come in the next 24 hours, we will leave.”

One source in the Yemeni government delegation in Geneva told Reuters news agency that if the Houthis did not leave Sanaa “by 12pm” [09:00 GMT] on Friday, “I think the government delegation will decide to leave”.

The Houthi-run Saba news agency defended the the group’s absence, reporting that the Saudi-led alliance was “refusing to give required authorisations to an Omani plane in the capital Sanaa to transfer the [Houthi] delegation to Geneva”.

The news agency reported that the Houthis “blamed the UN for failing to secure the authorisations from the alliance which controls Yemen’s airspace”.

Mohammad Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ main spokesman who has previously held secret talks with the Saudi-UAE alliance in Oman, also blamed the UN, saying it should “speak to the Americans”, who he claimed control Yemeni airspace.

The Saudi-UAE alliance has controlled Yemeni airspace since March 2015.

‘Flickering signal of hope’

In a statement issued late on Thursday, Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, said efforts were being made to overcome last minute obstacles.

His office said it was “hopeful” to see the Houthi delegation present at the Geneva talks to expedite the political process.

Griffiths said “informal consultations” with the government would begin immediately, and described the talks as a “flickering signal of hope” to end the war in which at least 10,000 Yemenis have been killed.

“The Special Envoy is mindful of the challenges associated with bringing the parties together to Geneva, bearing in mind that they haven’t met for two years,” Griffith’s office said in a statement released on Thursday.

The last UN-backed peace negotiations for Yemen were held in Kuwait two years ago.

The talks continued for several months but no constructive results were reached due to serious differences between rival parties.

Yemen remains wracked by violence since the Houthis overran much of the country, including the capital Sanaa, in 2014.

The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and allies – who accuse the Houthis of being Iranian proxies – launched a massive air campaign in Yemen aimed at rolling back rebel gains.

Iran and the Houthis deny the accusations.

Now entering its fourth year, the war has pushed more than 22 million people to seek humanitarian assistance.

According to UNICEF, 11 million children, a number greater than the entire population of Switzerland, need humanitarian assistance every day.

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