By Aziz El Yaakoubi
RIYADH, June 2 (Reuters) – Yemen’s warring parties agreed to extend a U.N.-brokered truce for another two months under the same terms as the original deal that was due to expire on Thursday, the U.N. envoy to Yemen said.
Delegations from the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement are expected to return to the Jordanian capital Amman to continue talks, a Yemeni official said.
The truce that began on April 2 saw a halt to major military operations in Yemen and cross-border attacks in the seven-year war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi group, and helped ease a humanitarian crisis that has left millions hungry.
The truce is the most significant step in years towards ending the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and added tensions to an already strained relationship between Riyadh and Washington.
“For the past two months, Yemenis have experienced the tangible benefits of the truce,” United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said in a statement.
U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the truce’s extension and said it would not have been possible without regional diplomacy.
“Saudi Arabia demonstrated courageous leadership by taking initiatives early on to endorse and implement terms of the U.N.-led truce,” Biden said in a statement. Oman, Egypt and Jordan also played roles in enabling the truce process, he added.
The Yemen truce would not be possible without cooperative diplomacy from the region, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Thursday.
“We specifically recognize the leadership of King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in helping to consolidate the truce,” she said.
Biden, upset at the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence says was approved by bin Salman, has sought to recalibrate the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.
The renewed agreement will allow for fuel ships to continue to dock into Houthi-held Hodeidah port and some commercial flights from the airport in the capital Sanaa, which is controlled by the group.
There had been intense efforts to salvage the deal which was threatened by stalled talks on reopening roads in disputed Taiz, where Houthi troops have imposed a siege for years.
The United Nations is also seeking to start broader political discussions including on shoring up Yemen’s devastated economy, government revenues and public sector salaries.
Riyadh wants to exit a costly war that had been in military stalemate for years with the Houthis controlling most big urban centres. The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital Sanaa.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Steve Holland from Washington; Editing by Barbara Lewis, Jonathan Oatis and Hugh Lawson)