ADEN // As Yemen’s government and the Houthis began UN-brokered peace talks in Switzerland on Tuesday, the rebels failed to honour a week-long ceasefire in several parts of the country.
Both sides had agreed to the truce, which was supposed to start at midday local time, but the Houthis continued shelling civilian and pro-government targets in the provinces of Marib, Taez and Dalea – areas where the worst of the fighting had been taking place.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states halted its air strikes. The coalition, which includes the UAE, is fighting the Houthis to restore the internationally-recognised government of Abdrabu Mansur Hadi to power.
Fareed Al Homaid, a journalist in Taez city, the capital of Taez province in the country's south-west, told The National that rebels there had continued shelling civilian homes after the ceasefire had begun, while pro-government Popular Resistance fighters had stopped fighting the Houthis.
According to witnesses and medics, seven civilians were killed and 15 wounded in the shelling.
“The Houthis shelled Taez less today than in the past few days, but they did not stop completely,” Mr Al Homaid said, adding that the rebels had also targeted the resistance at Al Shoraiga front.
“I do not think the resistance fighters will be patient if the Houthis continue to target them and civilians,” he said.
The Houthis also continued to shell resistance fighters in the Morais district of Dalea province, which borders Taez.
“The resistance fighters in Dalea want the peace talks to succeed and so they have not yet responded to the Houthis’ shelling,” Waleed Al Khateeb, an anti-Houthi activist in Dalea city, said.
But, he added: “I think they will return fire if the Houthis do not stop.”
Meanwhile, Mohammed Al Gadasi, a journalist based in Marib, east of Sanaa, said at least one resistance fighter had been killed in Houthi shelling in the province.
“The Houthis attacked Al Khazan, Qareen, Ghorz, Al Falaqah, and Al Sawdah localities in the areas of Magzer and Hahlan. One or two resistance fighters were killed, while others were injured,” he said.
Most of Marib was liberated in October but pockets of Houthis remain.
Mr Al Gadasi similarly said he did not expect the truce to hold in the province if the rebels continued to target the resistance.
“If the resistance do not fight back then the Houthis will take over the whole province,” he said.
In the Swiss city of Geneva, meanwhile, UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said 12 negotiators and six advisers made up each of the two delegations taking part in the “open-ended” peace talks.
UN special envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the talks “should mark the end of military violence in Yemen”.
“The people of Yemen are daily, indeed hourly, anticipating the outcome of these discussions. This meeting is their only glimmer of hope and must not be extinguished,” the envoy said in his opening remarks. “The tongues of fire, the scenes of destruction, the reverberation of bombs and the soaring prices have turned their daily lives into a series of ongoing tragedies.”
Past efforts to end the violence have ended in failure, with the government insisting the Houthis comply with a UN resolution that requires them to return seized weapons and territory they have captured over the past year, including the capital, Sanaa. In response, the Houthis demanded negotiations over the country’s political future.
The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday that its plans to distribute medical supplies across the country during the ceasefire were on track despite reported violations.
“We have requested unconditional movement of supplies, personnel and teams to all parts of the country and we got the confirmation that this will definitely be granted,” said the WHO representative in Yemen, Ahmed Shadoul.
He said the UN agency had prepared “around 19 trucks which will be distributed to different parts of the country, probably to 14 locations”, and that he believed the lorries had already left warehouses in Sanaa and the southern province of Aden.
* With additional reporting by agencies