LONDON—U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire in Yemen between Houthi rebels and government forces, as an 18-month war wreaks havoc in the Middle Eastern country.
Speaking alongside Mr. Johnson and the United Nations’ special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed after meeting with them Sunday, Mr. Kerry said a cease-fire must be reached rapidly, which he defined as Monday or Tuesday. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash also participated in the meeting.
“We are here to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, which will be declared in the next few hours,” Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed said, adding that he had been in contact with the Houthis’ lead negotiator and the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. He also said he hoped for “clearer plans” in coming days.
Sunday’s announcement follows the Houthis’ release of two American prisoners on Saturday. Mr. Kerry confirmed their release in Switzerland and told reporters that they had been flown to Oman along with people wounded in a strike on a funeral hall last weekend.
Mr. Kerry, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed didn’t say why this cease-fire attempt might be successful. It appeared that the release of American prisoners in Yemen on Saturday was a confidence-building measure toward ending the violence and moving to political talks. On Sunday, both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed pointed to it as an important gesture.
Mr. Kerry spoke on the sidelines of Syria meetings on Saturday with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the conflict in Yemen. Iran has supported the Houthis and provided them with weapons.
Before bringing the prisoners and wounded to Oman, the same plane flew a Houthi delegation that had been stranded in Oman since the breakdown of international peace talks over the summer back to San’a, Mr. Kerry said on Saturday.
Some of the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes have caused civilian deaths, drawing criticism from human-rights groups and the U.S.
“The conflict in Yemen is causing increasing international concern, the fatalities that we’re seeing there are unacceptable,” Mr. Johnson said. “There should be a cease-fire and the U.N. should lead the way in calling for that cease-fire.”
In August, Mr. Kerry said he had agreed with Gulf Arab officials to a plan to restart peace talks to form a unity government. That plan called for Houthi rebels to withdraw from San’a and for the transfer of ballistic missiles and other heavy weapons held by the Houthis and their allies to a third party.
Mr. Kerry said Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed would announce when and how the cease-fire would take effect once both sides in the conflict reached an agreement.