Yemen’s Houthi group is expected to travel to Sweden by Wednesday for peace talks after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition approved the evacuation of some of their wounded for treatment, paving the way for negotiations to end the nearly four-year-old war.
The coalition said in a statement it had agreed on the evacuation “for humanitarian considerations and as part of confidence-building measures” ahead of the talks.
50 wounded fighters entered Sanaa airport early Monday as the commercial plane hired by the United Nations to take them to Oman for treatment arrived. The aircraft departed later Monday.
The U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa Monday to escort the Houthi delegation, a U.N. source told Reuters. The Saudi-backed government has said it would follow the Houthis to the talks, the first since 2016.
Prospects for convening talks have increased as Western allies press Saudi Arabia, leader of the alliance battling the Houthis, over a war that has killed more than 56,000 people according to a study by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and which has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, reaching 14 million according to the U.N.
The peace talks may start Wednesday after U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths shuttled between the parties to salvage a previous round that collapsed in September after the Houthis failed to show up.
A Houthi official told Reuters that their delegation could travel Monday night or Tuesday morning. In addition to the evacuation of their wounded, the group had asked to travel on a plane not inspected by the coalition.
Some 8.4 million Yemenis are facing starvation, although the United Nations has warned that number will likely rise to 14 million. Three-quarters of impoverished Yemenis, or 22 million people, require aid.
Griffiths hopes to reach a deal on reopening Sanaa airport and securing a prisoner swap and a ceasefire in Hodeidah as a foundation for a wider truce, including a halt to coalition air strikes that have killed thousands of civilians.
The U.S. Senate is due to consider this week a resolution to end support for the conflict and Saudi Arabia which has been accused of war crimes in Yemen.