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Yemen talks struggle as air strikes shake truce; Committee talks indefinitely postponed – UN envoy bids to break impasse

KUWAIT: Yemen’s Houthi movement accused a Saudi-led coalition of launching air strikes that killed seven people yesterday, shaking a truce that has largely held through more than two weeks of UN-backed peace talks in Kuwait. The Iran-allied Houthis and Yemen’s Saudi-backed exiled government are trying to broker a peace through the talks in Kuwait and ease a humanitarian crisis in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

The year-long conflict has drawn in regional powers and killed at least 6,200 people, according to the United Nations. “The aggressor’s planes bombed various districts in the Nehm district, leading to the death of seven martyrs and wounding three,” the Houthis said in a statement. Political sources from the Houthi group’s rivals in Yemen’s government say the bombing in the Nehm area east of the capital Sanaa was directed at Houthi forces that were massing in the area in violation of a ceasefire that began on April 10.

A spokesman for the mostly Gulf Arab military coalition did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. As part of the peace talks, representatives of Yemen’s warring sides formed joint political and security committees last week but have made little progress toward a full ceasefire or political transition plan.

The UN special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had earlier held talks with the warring parties in a bid to break an impasse, a day after the government pulled out of direct negotiations. Ismail held separate morning talks in Kuwait City with delegates, and plenary or committees’ meetings were planned in the afternoon, spokesman for the UN envoy Charbel Raji said. But in a setback to talks after yesterday’s events, Houthi representatives refused to attend the meeting with Ould Cheikh Ahmed, a statement from the office of Yemen’s prime minister said. The meetings of the joint committees have as a result been indefinitely postponed, pan-Arab Al-Arabiya television reported.

Yemen’s government on Saturday pulled out of direct negotiations with representatives of the Houthi rebels after there were no signs of any progress. A source close to the government delegation said the talks had reached a delicate stage after “the rebels backtracked to the starting point”. “That has complicated the situation,” the source told AFP, requesting anonymity. The rebels and their allies have demanded the formation of a consensus transitional government before forging ahead with other issues that require them to surrender arms and withdraw from territories they occupied in 2014. The rebels have also demanded the withdrawal of a small US force operating in the south of the country against Al-Qaeda militants.

A civil war in Yemen escalated when an armed push by the Houthis pushed the government into exile on March 26 last year. Seeing the group as a proxy for its Gulf rival Iran, Saudi Arabia mustered an alliance of mostly Gulf Arab countries to push the group back. But the coalition still appears far from forcing the Houthis out of Sanaa. If confirmed, the air attack would be the deadliest single incident since the ceasefire began. – Agencies

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