A Saudi-Omani delegation is planning to travel to Yemen’s capital Sanaa next week to hash out a permanent ceasefire deal with Houthi officials and end the country’s eight-year-old conflict, two sources involved in the talks said.
If an agreement is reached, Yemen’s warring parties could announce an agreement before Islam’s Eid holiday starting April 20, the sources said.
The Saudi and Yemeni governments did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.
The visit by Saudi officials to Sanaa is an indication of progress in Oman-mediated talks between the kingdom and the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which run in parallel to U.N. peace efforts.
It is also a sign that regional rifts are easing after rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to restore relations last month after years of hostility and backing opposite sides in Middle Eastern conflicts, including Yemen.
The Houthis, who ousted the internationally recognised government from Sanaa in late 2014, are de facto authorities in North Yemen and say they are rising up against a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
They have been fighting against a Saudi-led military alliance since 2015 in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and left 80% of Yemen’s population relying on humanitarian aid.
The discussions are focused on a full reopening of Yemen’s ports and airports, payment of wages for public servants, a rebuilding process and a political transition, they added.
Saudi Arabia restarted its direct talks with the Houthi group last summer after both sides failed to renew a United Nations-brokered truce deal.
The U.N. hopes to resume a peaceful political process which would lead to a transitional unity government if a ceasefire agreement is reached.
U.N. Special Envoy Hans Grundberg met with senior Omani and Houthi officials in Muscat this week and discussed ways to make progress towards an inclusive Yemeni-led political process, his office said.
In an additional sign of progress, the Saudi-led coalition lifted eight-year-old restrictions on imports headed for Yemen’s southern ports, the Saudi-backed government said.
This follows the easing of restrictions in February on commercial goods entering the Houthi-held western port of Hodeidah, the country’s main seaport.
The Saudi-backed government said on Thursday that commercial ships would be allowed to dock directly in southern ports, including Aden, and all goods would be cleared, with some exceptions.
Abu Bakr Abeed, deputy head of Yemen’s Chambers of Commerce, told Reuters ships would not have to stop at the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah for security checks for the first time since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015.
Mr. Abeed said more than 500 types of goods would be allowed back in Yemen through southern ports, including fertilisers and batteries, after they were removed from a list of banned products.
The Saudi-led coalition had since 2015 imposed severe restrictions on flow of goods into import-reliant Yemen, where war has devastated the economy, contributing to what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.