Yemen truce in doubt as Houthis reject coalition ceasefire
ADEN // The humanitarian truce in Yemen was in doubt on Sunday as Houthi rebels rejected the unilateral ceasefire declared by the Saudi-led coalition.
The five-day ceasefire was due to have taken effect at midnight on Sunday (1am UAE on Monday).
However, Houthi rebel leader Abdel Malek Al Houthi rejected the truce, saying it would allow pro-government fighters to regroup.
“The battle goes on and the war is not over,” Al Houthi was quoted as saying in a message posted on a Twitter account managed by his group.
He also said a ceasefire would only benefit militant groups such as ISIL and al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, pro-government forces battled retreating Houthi rebels on the northern outskirts of Yemen’s second city of Aden on Sunday.
Troops loyal to exiled president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi sought to tighten their control of the southern port city and surrounding areas ahead of the ceasefire.
Yemen has been rocked by months of fighting between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and Hadi loyalists, supported by the Saudi-led Arab coalition.
Pro-Hadi militiamen from the Popular Resistance attacked the Houthis overnight on Saturday on the northern outskirts of Aden, forcing the rebels out of the areas of Basateen and Jawala.
The loyalist forces have been bolstered by new weaponry and armoured vehicles delivered by the coalition, which includes the UAE.
They also benefited from air support by coalition warplanes, military sources said, adding that dozens of rebels were killed in the latest fighting.
Seven pro-Hadi fighters were also killed and 29 others wounded, a medical source said.
Further north, troops loyal to Mr Hadi forced rebels out of the town of Sabr in Lahj province, General Fadhel Hassan said.
Gen Hassan said pro-Hadi troops had taken the town that links Aden to Huta, the provincial capital of Lahj. Huta is the next target before reaching Al Anad, the country’s largest airbase, the general said.
The strategically important base housed US troops involved in a long-running drone war against Al Qaeda before the fighting forced them to withdraw.
Last week, pro-Hadi forces regained control of much of Aden, which was overrun by Houthi rebels in March.
Troops trained and armed by the coalition appeared to have triggered the shift in the balance in the Hadi loyalists’ favour.
The Houthis and allied renegade forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh advanced on Aden after Mr Hadi took refuge in the city following his escape from house arrest in Sanaa in February.
He later fled to Saudi Arabia which assembled an Arab coalition that launched an air campaign in late March against the rebels in a bid to restore the UN-backed leader.
In Riyadh on Sunday, Mr Hadi received the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
The two “discussed coordination over humanitarian aid delivery within the framework of the declared truce”, a Yemeni presidency source said.
The Saudi-led coalition on Saturday declared the five-day truce to allow aid deliveries but said it reserved the right to respond to “military activity or movement”.
The truce was announced at Mr Hadi’s request, it said.
A UN-declared six-day truce failed to take hold earlier this month after it was ignored by the coalition and the rebels.
The coalition said at the time it did not receive a request to halt operations from Mr Hadi. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “disappointed” over the failure of that truce.
But desperately needed relief supplies have recently begun to trickle into Aden after pro-Hadi fighters secured the city.
A ship carrying 3,000 tonnes of food supplies from the UN’s World Food Programme docked in Aden Tuesday, the first UN vessel to reach the city in four months of fighting.
Other ships from the UN and Gulf countries including the UAE followed.
On Saturday, a WFP ship carrying 3,400 tonnes of mixed food supplies arrived in Aden, WFP spokeswoman Reem Nada said, adding that the shipment was enough to feed 192,000 people for a month.
The UN says the conflict has killed more than 3,640 people since late March.
On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that civilian suffering in Yemen had reached “unprecedented levels”.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: July 26, 2015 04:00 AM