The US special envoy for Yemen has lashed out at the Houthi militia, accusing them of failing to try to reach an urgently needed cease-fire in the war-wrecked nation.
Tim Lenderking said the Iranian-backed Houthis bear the major responsibility for refusing to engage meaningfully on a cease-fire and to take steps to “resolve a nearly seven-years conflict that has brought unimaginable suffering to the Yemeni people.”
A spokesman for the Houthis was not immediately available for comment.
Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Iranian-backed Houthis swept across much of the north and seized the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government into exile.
An Arab coalition entered the war the following year on the side of the government. The war has killed more than 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Lenderking’s remarks came in a statement late Friday by the State Department after his return from a Mideast diplomatic mission on Yemen that took him to Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Jordan.
He also criticized the Houthis’ renewed offensive on the oil-rich Marib province, an anti-Houthi stronghold held by the internationally recognized government that is crucial to the country’s energy supplies.
The ongoing Marib attack, which began in February amid an international and regional diplomatic push to end the conflict, has left the rebels “increasingly isolated,” Lenderking said.
The State Department said Lenderking coordinated his efforts closely with the UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, who held video talks last week with the Houthis’ religious and military leader, Abdel-Malek Al-Houthi.
Griffiths expressed frustration that his efforts to achieve a cease-fire have been derailed by warring parties seeking gains on the battlefield.
He urged the sides to seize the “considerable regional and international support” for the UN peace plan.
“There’s an extraordinary amount of diplomatic consensus… there is a real diplomatic energy now, which hasn’t always been the case,” Griffiths said.
Lenderking’s rebuke to the Houthis came as the UN Security Council criticized the rebels for delaying a technical assessment of an oil tanker moored off the war-torn country’s coast loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil.
Omani officials, accompanied by senior Houthi figures, arrived Saturday in Sanaa to try to convince the militia who control the capital to accept a cease-fire, Houthi sources said.
“An Omani delegation arrived (in Sanaa), accompanied by Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam and other (Houthi) officials,” a militia source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Abdul Salam, in remarks carried by Houthi-run Al-Masirah television, said: “We are working to advance arrangements on the humanitarian question as well as the peace process.”
A Houthi official said the delegation arrived on an Omani military plane and would try to convince Houthi leaders to halt their offensive on Marib and return to the negotiating table in Oman’s capital of Muscat.
The aim of the Omani mediators seems to be “to convince the Houthis to accept a cease-fire and take part in peace negotiations,” the source added.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The visit aims to “complement efforts” made in Oman, he added.
The sultanate of Oman, which borders both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, is a close US ally but at the same time has good relations with Iran. It has regularly played the role of mediator in regional conflicts.
Muscat has hosted UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths and US envoy Tim Lenderking in recent weeks, while Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Abdul Salam in Oman in late April.
The visit came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone Friday with Omani Foreign Minister Badr bin Hamad bin Hamoud Al-Busaidi.
Blinken reiterated the need for “an immediate, comprehensive cease-fire to help bring the war in Yemen and the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people to an end,” according to the State Department.