Prospects for convening talks have increased as Western allies press Saudi Arabia over a war that has killed more than 15,000 people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The talks could start on Wednesday, two sources familiar with the matter said, after UN special envoy Martin Griffiths shuttled between the parties to salvage a previous round that collapsed in September after the Houthis failed to show up.
Western powers, which provide arms and intelligence to the coalition, may have greater leverage to demand action on Yemen after outrage over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul increased scrutiny of the kingdom’s activities in the region.
The US Senate is due to consider this week a resolution to end support for the conflict.
The coalition agreed to a UN request to facilitate the evacuation of 50 wounded Houthis “for humanitarian considerations and as part of confidence-building measures” ahead of the talks, spokesman Turki al-Malki said.
A UN commercial plane would land in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Monday to transport them to Oman, along with three doctors, he said in a statement.
The Houthis have said they would head to Sweden once the wounded were evacuated and if their delegation’s plane was not inspected by the coalition. The group has agreed to travel on a plane provided by Kuwait, a source familiar with the talks said.
The Saudi-backed government has said it would follow the Houthis for the consultations, the first since 2016, which are also due to focus on a transitional governing body.
“If the parties actually turn up in Sweden ... that in itself must be considered progress, even if there are no concrete outcomes,” said Elisabeth Kendall, a senior research fellow in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Oxford University, Reuters reported.
“Neither side wishes to be blamed for the dire consequences of the looming famine, which is starting to become a reality,” she said. “But it remains to be seen whether the political will is really there to make the necessary concessions for peace.”
Some 8.4 million Yemenis are facing starvation, although the United Nations has warned that will likely rise to 14 million. Three-quarters of impoverished Yemen’s population, or 22 million people, require aid.
The Saudi-led alliance began a devastating aggression on Yemen in March 2015 to restore power to fugitive former president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh, but has faced military stalemate, despite superior air power.
The Houthis, who are more adept at guerrilla warfare, hold most population centers including Sanaa and the port city of Hudaydah, a lifeline for millions that is now a focus of the war.
Griffiths hopes to reach a deal on reopening Sanaa airport and securing a prisoner swap and a ceasefire in Hudaydah as a foundation for a wider truce, including a halt to coalition air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians and Houthi missile attacks on Saudi cities.