STATE DEPARTMENT - A 48-hour truce by Saudi-led military forces in Yemen began Saturday (at 09:00 UTC) and will be extended if the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels maintain a commitment to it and allow aid into areas under siege.
The agreement is intended to lead to the formation of a new government. Consent to the truce was separately reached with President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels, diplomats tell VOA.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made Yemen a top priority for his remaining weeks in the position. During his just-completed eleven-day, around-the-world trip, Kerry met various officials, worked the phones and secretly met with Houthi leaders in Oman to finalize this latest cease-fire pact.
U.S. Ambassador Matthew Tueller and Deputy Assistant Tim Lenderking met with Hadi on Thursday while ground fighting and airstrikes continued in Yemen.
The Shiite rebels had earlier confirmed their endorsement of the U.S.-brokered deal, which Kerry first revealed in a joint interview Tuesday in Abu Dhabi with VOA and Reuters.
Yemen’s government, however, had initially rejected the agreement, saying it was because they had not been involved in the talks between Kerry and the Houthi delegation.
The peace agreement compels Hadi to transfer power to a newly appointed vice president. The Houthis are also to get a share of power.
Government forces, which are backed by a Saudi-led coalition, on Thursday pushed back rebels from several districts in Taiz.
The Houthis have carried out hundreds of unlawful detentions and torture since capturing the country's capital, Sana'a, according to Human Rights Watch, which said it has documented two deaths in custody and 11 cases of alleged torture and abuses.
The Houthis emerged from their northern enclave in 2014 to take Sana'a and much of the northern part of Yemen, forcing President Hadi to flee the country and take refuge in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi-led airstrikes and ground fighting have killed 10,000 civilians, displaced three million and brought others in the country of 27 million people to the brink of famine, according to U.N. agencies.
“There's a humanitarian disaster in Yemen,” said Kerry on Tuesday. “There's serious security and economic and political and humanitarian challenges and our sense is, and most of the parties we talked to, agree, in fact all the parties we talked to agree that there's no military solution. So, if that is the fact, then you've got to get into what is the political solution."
There is widespread skepticism among observers that such an agreement will hold.
“Unfortunately, I have little expectation the peace deal will last," said Hrach Gregorian, director of the international peace and conflict resolution program at American University in Washington.
“I don't know that the regime of President Hadi has any remaining political legitimacy or the capacity to govern, so any deal that is struck will need to address the issue of effective post-war governance," Gregorian told VOA.