SANAA, Yemen (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that Yemen's Shiite rebels have agreed to a cease-fire for their war-torn country, starting later this week — on condition their adversaries also agree to it.
However, Kerry's announcement drew an immediate backlash from the internationally-recognized Yemeni government, which dismissed the deal as "unilateral."
Kerry told reporters that the rebels, known as Houthis, have told him they agree to abide by a cessation of hostilities, starting on Thursday, providing the government side does the same, and that they are also willing to participate in a unity government, to be formed by the end of the year.
"There is a humanitarian disaster in Yemen - (not) just serious security and economic and political and humanitarian challenges," the top American diplomat said after leaving Oman — an Arab country that has been a traditional Mideast go-between — where he held talks with a Houthi delegation
"All the parties we talk to agree that there's no military solution," Kerry said. "So if that's the fact, you've got to get into: What is the political solution?"
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government promptly rejected the cease-fire initiative. Hadi's government is supported by a Saudi-led coalition that has been waging an air campaign in Yemen to dislodge the Houthis after they seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.
Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mekhalfi said the deal has nothing to do with his government.
"The government doesn't know and is not concerned with what Kerry announced; this shows a desire to foil peace efforts by trying to reach a deal with Houthis away from the government," al-Mekhalfi wrote on his Twitter account.
Two top Hadi aides described Kerry's remarks as "unilateral deal." The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Hadi's government has opposed a road map to peace, which Kerry said won support of Houthis. The document, which was drafted last month by the U.N. envoy to Yemen, sidelines Hadi by stipulating the formation of a new unity government. It also transfers the president's powers to a vice president and a new prime minister.
The document says the formation of the unity government would come hand-in-hand with preparations for the Houthis to withdraw from cities they seized and hand over their weapons to a third party.
Hadi's government described the road map as a reward to the rebels though Kerry said it has the support of the Saudi-led coalition.
Yemen has been caught in a deadly conflict since 2014 when the Houthis descended from their northern enclave and seized Saana, forcing Hadi's government to flee and seek military intervention from the Saudi neighbors and Arab Gulf states.
The relentless airstrikes, along with the fighting on the ground, have killed over 4,000 civilians and pushed Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, to the brink of famine.