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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Warring sides in Yemen's long conflict offered support on Thursday for the United Nations' call for a ceasefire to protect civilians from the coronavirus pandemic.
The move came on the fifth anniversary of Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen's civil war, at the helm of a military coalition supporting the internationally recognised government against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Saudi Arabia, the Yemen government and the rebels all welcomed the appeal from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who this week called for an "immediate global ceasefire" to help avert disaster for vulnerable people in conflict zones.
"The government of Yemen welcomes the call of the UN chief... for a ceasefire in the face of coronavirus, and to de-escalate acts of violence in the entire country," it said in a statement.
"The political, economic and health situation require halting all escalations... to preserve people's lives and deal responsibly with this pandemic."
The Saudi-led coalition also backed the initiative, saying: "We support the Yemeni government's decision to accept the UN's calls for a ceasefire."
Yemen's broken healthcare system has not so far recorded a case of coronavirus but aid groups have warned that when it does hit, the impact will be catastrophic in a country already regarded as facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
"We have a global coronavirus pandemic threatening to overwhelm an already broken health care system," said Tamuna Sabadze, country director at the International Rescue Committee, adding that Yemen is already battling a large cholera outbreak.
Millions are dependent on humanitarian aid in Yemen, which has been mired in conflict since the Houthis ousted the government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014. The group still controls most major urban centres despite years of war.
The Houthis, who are entering the sixth year of the conflict in a strong position with more strategic gains in recent months in the country's north, also welcomed Guterres's call to wind back fighting.
"The coalition's announcement ... is welcome. We are waiting for it to be applied practically," a senior Houthi official, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, tweeted late on Wednesday.
However, the Yemen conflict has been punctuated by failed agreements, and negotiating a pause could be very difficult. None of the parties to the conflict spelt out any mechanism for the process.
Yemen had witnessed a lull in military action after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis launched back-channel talks late last year. But there has been a recent spike in violence that threatens fragile peace deals in vital port cities.
In his appeal from UN headquarters in New York on Monday, Guterres said: "The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.
"That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world."
Updated: March 26, 2020 02:45 PM
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