UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. envoy for Yemen said Friday that there has been a substantial decrease in violence in key areas of the war-wracked country.
"In the last two weeks, the rate has dramatically reduced: There were reportedly almost 80% fewer airstrikes nationwide than in the two weeks prior," U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. "In recent weeks, there have been entire 48-hour periods without airstrikes for the first time since the conflict began."
Griffiths said the number of security incidents in the vital port city of Hodeidah have dropped by 40%, and since five joint observation posts were created along front lines, incidents are down 80%.
"Indeed, for several days in a row, there were no incidents in the city at all," Griffiths told the council via a video link from Amman, Jordan.
He also noted that missile and drone attacks by Houthi rebels on neighboring Saudi Arabia have stopped for the past two months.
The move toward a de-escalation is the first good news in months for Yemen, which has fought famine and cholera and a collapsing economy.
Saudi Arabia began bombing Houthi rebels in support of the Yemeni government in March 2015. Since then, the U.N. human rights office estimates that more than 7,000 civilians have been killed and more than 10,000 injured — the majority from airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. Thousands more have died from the effects of hunger, disease and a lack of access to medical care.
"Efforts to de-escalate violence are holding," envoy Griffiths said. "I hope we will soon be able to build upon this achievement."
He commended leaders in Yemen, saying, "They are doing the right thing."
Earlier this month in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi signed a power-sharing agreement with the Southern Transitional Council, which is seeking self-rule for southern Yemen. The deal averted a potential splintering of the country and provides for the government's return to the southern city of Aden.
"The prospect of a breakup of the state was real and frankly terrifying," Griffiths told the council. He said he hopes this breakthrough can be a catalyst for further progress toward a wider political settlement.
Yemen's U.N. ambassador welcomed the Riyadh agreement and called for its full implementation.
"The agreement would usher in a new era of stability and security in Yemen," Ambassador Abdullah al-Saadi said. He said the prime minister and the cabinet returned this week to the temporary capital, Aden.
Al-Saadi criticized the slow implementation of the Stockholm agreement, however, which is nearly one year old. "It is important to reflect on the reasons for such a delay and exert pressure on the spoilers," al-Saadi said of the first phase of agreements made between the government and rebels.
For its part, the U.N. Security Council reaffirmed its strong support for Griffiths' efforts to bring the parties together in an inclusive political process. "The council really hopes momentum can be put behind that," the council president, British Ambassador Karen Pierce, told reporters after the meeting.