UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations on Thursday announced an "unconditional humanitarian pause" in Yemen's conflict starting at midnight local time Friday, with the goal of stopping the violence so that desperately needed supplies can be delivered to over 21 million people in the Arab world's poorest country.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was assured that both Yemen's exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Shiite Houthi rebels support halting fighting through the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends July 17, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. He said Hadi informed the Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against the rebels of his support "to ensure their support and collaboration."
"We have the expressions necessary from all parties to announce the start of this pause on Friday, July 10," Dujarric said.
But at the same time, U.N. officials hope that those assurances will result in solid commitments and an actual cease-fire.
"Ultimately what we want is to be absolutely certain that the fighting stops," U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told The Associated Press.
More than 3,000 people have been killed since March, when the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition began launching airstrikes against the rebels who have seized control of the capital and other cities since September.
The coalition has imposed a near-complete air and sea blockade in Yemen, though there have been controlled openings in the air blockade recently. The airstrikes continued Thursday in the southern cities of Aden and Lahj.
The United Nations declared its highest-level humanitarian emergency in Yemen on July 1, the week after the U.N. envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said the country is "one step" from famine.
Dujarric said humanitarian agencies must be given unhindered access to all parts of the country.
According to the U.N. humanitarian office, over 21 million Yemenis are in need of aid, representing 80 percent of the population, and millions are close to famine.
Dujarric said if humanitarian agencies get access, they plan to stockpile supplies throughout the country.
Ahmed, the U.N. envoy, has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get the parties in Yemen to end the conflict.
Dujarric said Ahmed is continuing to engage with all parties "to take confidence-building steps towards a durable cease-fire" leading to a withdrawal of forces, release of political prisoners and a resumption of a political process for a democratic transition.
Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo