Pockets of deadly fighting broke out in Yemen yesterday hours before a truce was due to start to facilitate peace talks aimed at ending the year-long conflict that has drawn in regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.
A spokesman for a Saudi-led military coalition, which backs government forces in Yemen, urged Iran-allied Houthi rebels to respect the halt in fighting due from midnight (2100 GMT) before talks to end the war on April 18 in Kuwait.
He said the coalition and Yemeni government backed the truce but retained the right to respond to any violations.
Hours before the fighting was due to stop, heavy battles flared between forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Houthi fighters in Al-Maton, north of Sanaa, residents said.
In the central Bayda province, battles in the Al-Sawadiya and Al-Zaher districts killed more than 20 people, local officials and residents said, and fighting continued in the southwestern city of Taiz.
The war has killed over 6,200 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis in one of the Arab world’s poorest countries.
The UN, which is involved in efforts to end the conflict, hopes the cessation in hostilities will lead to a more concrete, formal ceasefire with confidence-building measures.
“We hope the other parties, Houthi militias and those with them, abide by this truce,” said Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri, the spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition which has been carrying out air strikes for the past year. “The alliance retains the right to respond if breaches occur in the coming days,” he told Al Arabiya television.
In the capital Sanaa, controlled for the last 18 months by the Houthis, residents said they desperately wanted this attempt at peace to succeed after two rounds of talks failed last year.
“I am tired of the fighting, the destruction, everything,” said Hussein Ali, a 57-year-old government employee.
“The situation is very difficult for people without work, without electricity, without water, and with the fear that, at any moment, bombardment could kill those dear to us.”
“I hope that, when I wake up in the morning, the war has stopped,” said 16-year-old student Amal Ahmed in Sanaa, “and I can go to school, my classmates too, without being afraid of raids and death.”
The coalition’s Asiri said the Yemeni government planned to go to the peace talks and support the UN efforts to help bring about an end to the war.
“We hope to succeed and let’s be optimistic that the coming days will be positive,” he told Al Arabiya.
Hadi met his advisers in Riyadh yesterday, Yemeni officials said. They said the Houthis had not yet informed the UN about their latest position on the agreement to stop fighting.
A spokesman for the Houthis could not immediately be reached for comment.