Fighting rages on in Yemen, killing 10, as humanitarian ceasefire draws to an end

17 May 2015

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Exiled Yemeni president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, arrives for the opening of "Riyadh Conference for Saving Yemen and Building Federal State". ─ AFP
Exiled Yemeni president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, arrives for the opening of "Riyadh Conference for Saving Yemen and Building Federal State". ─ AFP

CAIRO/SANAA/RIYADH: At least 10 people were killed in overnight battles between Houthis and militiamen in the Yemeni city of Taiz, residents and medical sources said on Sunday.

The fighting in Taiz comes despite a five-day humanitarian truce which began on Tuesday to distribute aid to the millions deprived of food, fuel and medicine by weeks of fighting.

Some fighting also took place in the city of Dhalea on Saturday night but there was no immediate information on casualties.

Saudi Arabia, leading a coalition of Arab states backed by the West, has pounded Houthi forces and fighters loyal to Yemen's former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh since March 26, aiming to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Yemen's conflict has killed more than 1,400 people ─ many of them civilians ─ since March 19, according to the United Nations.

The country of some 25 million people has endured shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity as a result of a Saudi-led blockade.

Humanitarian organisations have been scrambling to distribute aid before the end of the truce.

The UN agency for children said it has distributed supplies “which can provide primary health care to over 24,000 people and treat 3,500 severely malnourished children."

Unicef said 115 children have been killed and 172 have been wounded in the conflict since the beginning of the airstrikes on March 26.

Thirty schools and 23 hospitals have been attacked, it said, without saying who was responsible.

UN envoy urges extension of Yemen humanitarian truce

A UN envoy called for an extension of a humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen due to expire on Sunday as the Houthi rebels boycotted political talks in Riyadh.

The appeal followed clashes on the ground between rebels and pro-government forces that killed dozens across south Yemen on Saturday despite the truce, which has largely held.

“I call on all parties to renew their commitment to this truce for five more days at least,” UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Sheikh Ahmed said in the Saudi capital.

“This humanitarian truce should turn into a permanent ceasefire,” the Mauritanian diplomat added.

Aid groups have also called for a lasting truce in the impoverished country, where a Saudi-led regional coalition has been waging an air war on the Houthis since late March.

Yemeni political parties began talks Sunday in the Saudi capital aimed at finding a political solution to the crisis.

But the Houthis stayed away from the meeting of about 400 delegates including President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has taken refuge in Riyadh.

An Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen in defiance of US warnings has entered the Gulf of Aden and is expected to reach port on Thursday, media in Tehran reported.

The ship's mission has been overshadowed by US calls for it to head to a UN emergency relief hub in Djibouti instead of docking in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

Rebels boycott talks

The Houthis are boycotting the three-day meeting in Riyadh, insisting on holding the talks in Yemen. But representatives of Saleh's General People's Congress party will be present.

Among the goals of the meeting is working towards a constitution which would be presented to the Yemeni people, “and to hold a referendum to put the results of the dialogue into practice,” according to Abdulaziz al-Jaber, head of the conference's organising committee.

Saudi Arabia previously hosted Gulf-sponsored meetings that sealed a deal to ease Saleh out of office in February 2012 after a year of deadly nationwide protests against his three-decade rule.

The chaos in Yemen has been exploited by armed groups, including the country's branch of Al Qaeda, which is viewed by the United States as the world's most dangerous branch of the network.

Three suspected militants were killed late Saturday in a US drone strike that targeted a vehicle transporting weapons in Habban, in southern Shabwa province, a tribal chief said.

The extremist group has controlled Mukalla, the capital of Yemen's vast desert Hadramawt province, since April and has for months claimed deadly attacks against Yemen's government-controlled armed forces.

A local official said 36 Yemen soldiers were kidnapped on Friday by suspected Al-Qaeda members in Mukalla.