Clashes in Yemen ahead of planned truce, peace talks
Clashes shook the flashpoint city of Taez and coalition warplanes bombed rebel positions ahead of the expected truce, due to take effect at 0900 GMT.
The coalition, which launched an air campaign against the Huthi Shiite rebels in March, said the ceasefire would go ahead at the request of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
But it warned that it “reserves the right to respond in case of any violation”.
Hadi has declared his government’s intention to have a seven-day truce to coincide with talks opening in Switzerland and to be “renewed automatically if the other party commits to it,” the coalition statement said.
A Yemen presidential statement said the proposed ceasefire “comes out of keenness to grab any chance to achieve peace, to reduce the suffering of our people in Yemen and to end bloodshed.”
A lull in fighting is sorely needed in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest nation, where the UN says an estimated 80 percent of the population requires humanitarian aid.
Jihadists, including the Islamic State group, have exploited the violence, gaining ground and carrying out deadly attacks against both sides in the conflict.
Yemen’s conflict pits pro-government forces backed by the coalition against the Huthis and renegade troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The rebel forces have yet to say if they will abide by the ceasefire.
Previous UN efforts have failed to narrow differences, and past truces were broken.
“We hope the (rebel) militias will commit to the ceasefire this time,” said Mueen Abdulmalek, a member of the coalition-backed government’s delegation at peace talks.
A presidency official confirmed the truce was agreed by Hadi and Yemen’s UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
The buildup for the ceasefire was overshadowed by confusion over when it would begin.
It had been due to take effect at midnight (2100 GMT) on Monday but shortly before that the coalition announced its postponement.
– Clashes, strikes go on –
Ahead of the ceasefire, coalition warplanes bombed rebel positions in Taez, where clashes raged as rebels attempted to advance towards the loyalist-held northern neighbourhood of al-Zonooj, a military official said.
Warplanes also bombed rebel positions south of Sanaa overnight Monday, witnesses said.
The rebel-controlled Saba news agency said 10 people were killed and 20 others were wounded in an air raid early Tuesday on the village of Bani Haddad, in the Haradh area of northern Yemen.
The coalition suffered a severe blow Monday when a rocket killed the head of Saudi special forces in Aden, Colonel Abdullah al-Sahyan, as well as an Emirati officer, Sultan al-Kitbi.
The coalition said they were killed while supervising operations “to liberate” Taez province. The Yemeni presidency described them as “martyrs” who died in an honourable battle”
A Yemeni military source said they were killed when rebels fired a rocket at a coastal road in Taez, which overlooks the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait through which much of the world’s maritime traffic passes.
Both pro-Hadi forces and insurgent groups have traded barbs over each side’s willingness to stick to the truce.
And there has been no word from Saleh or his General People’s Congress party, which is represented at the Switzerland talks, to be held at an undisclosed location.
The warring sides have agreed to talks despite protracted differences, including over UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls for rebels to withdraw from key cities and surrender their weapons.
The government and its Gulf allies say the resolution is a prerequisite for peace.
According to the UN envoy, talks will focus on four main areas, including the terms of a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of armed groups from areas they control.
The Huthis, who have long complained of marginalisation, seized the government headquarters in Sanaa in September 2014, several months after advancing from their northern stronghold of Saada.
They later encroached on the main southern city Aden, forcing Hadi into exile in Saudi Arabia.
In November, Hadi returned to Aden and declared it his provisional capital.
Under cover of coalition warplanes and backed by Arab soldiers and heavy weaponry, pro-government forces have recaptured five southern provinces, including Aden, since July.
The United Nations says more than 5,800 people have been killed in Yemen, about half of them civilians, and more than 27,000 wounded since March.