Warring parties in Yemen endorsed a United Nations-brokered truce on Friday but fighting in the small country continued while jets from Saudi Arabia carried out attacks as usual.
The pause in fighting is meant to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy of Ramadan and would allow humanitarian aid to reach millions of Yemenis who have been battered by four months of war.
“We hope this truce will be the beginning of the end of the Saudi aggression and the end of the violation of United Nations conventions that the war of aggression on Yemen has seen,” the top Houthi leader, Mohammed al-Houthi, said in a statement.
But in a televised statement, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, another prominent figure in the movement, expressed doubt.
“As for the truce, we don’t have big hope in its success,” he said, “because its success is linked to the commitment of the Saudi regime and its allies.”
Saudi Arabia began bombing in March after Yemen’s internationally-recognized president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, was deposed by Houthi rebels.
Other Arab countries, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have supported the effort.
The Saudis, who normally shy away from deploying their armed forces, see Yemen a battleground in their struggle for regional hegemony with Iran and consider the Houthis proxies of the Shia state.
Iran has thrown its support behind the Houthis, who are also Shia and now control much of the west of Yemen. But there is no evidence it created the group nor directly inspired their rebellion which had been festering for years.
The conflict came to a head earlier this year when the Houthis allied with troops loyal to Hadi’s predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to stave off constitutional reforms that would have split Yemen up into six autonomous regions. The Houthis criticized Hadi’s plan, saying it would erode national unity.
Yemen was unified in 1990 under Saleh.
Separatists in the former South Yemen also rejected the partition plan — because they felt it gave them too little autonomy. They now comprise the main fighting force opposing the Houthis. Support for Hadi, whose restoration is the formal objective of the Saudi military intervention, is limited.
The president, who is also still recognized as Yemen’s leader by the United States, lives in exile in Saudi Arabia.
Four months of bombing have not driven the Houthis out of the capital, Sana’a. Nor has their alliance of convenience with Saleh been severed.
Despite reports in April that some pro-Saleh brigades had defected and were engaging the Houthis, Saudi Arabia seems to have been unable to win back the support of the Yemeni strongman whose ouster it facilitated in 2012 when the kingdom feared an Islamist-inspired “Arab Spring” uprising in the country.
According to the United Nations, some 3,000 Yemenis have been killed in fighting in the last three months alone, half of them civilians. Over a million have had to flee their homes and 21 million are in need of immediate help.