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Yemen: UN envoy seeks to restart peace talks, secure new ceasefire
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United Nations envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed steps out of a plane upon arrival at the international airport in Sana’a, Yemen, on May 29, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

United Nations envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed steps out of a plane upon arrival at the international airport in Sana’a, Yemen, on May 29, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is seeking to secure a new ceasefire in the country and restart peace talks between the government and the Houthi movement, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday.

The sources said all sides have agreed “in principle” to restart the talks, which were due to take place in Geneva last Thursday, and that Ould Cheikh Ahmed was aiming for them to begin before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on June 17.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday the peace talks were delayed due to the Houthis not agreeing to comply with a UN Security Council resolution on Yemen.

Resolution 2216 stipulates the Houthis withdraw from all areas in the country currently under their control and cease all hostile action against civilians.

The Yemeni government has set the Houthis’ complying with the resolution as a precondition for attending the talks.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni source, who requested anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s new proposal should convince the Houthis to abide by the UN’s demands.

The Houthis have still not vacated areas they control in Yemen including the capital Sana’a which they have occupied since September 2014.

Following their takeover of the capital the Shi’ite group’s militias spread throughout Yemen, occupying other cities and towns and targeting civilians.

The Iran-backed Houthis then launched a coup in February, deposing Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and placing him and members of the cabinet under house arrest.

Following his escape to the southern port city of Aden, Hadi headed to the Saudi capital Riyadh to request military intervention in Yemen from Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies.

The Saudi-led air campaign against the Houthis then began on March 26, officially ending a month later. However, continued hostile action by Houthi militias resulted in the air campaign restarting.

A five-day humanitarian ceasefire offered to the Houthis by the Saudi-led coalition began on May 12 but has not been extended due to the group’s continuing to target civilian areas.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s proposal includes provisions to extend the ceasefire, the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. However, these too are conditional upon the group complying with the UN resolution.

Local sources in Sana’a and elsewhere have confirmed the airstrikes against the Houthis have continued, while volunteer forces loyal to Hadi attempt to block the Houthi advance across the country.

Last week the southern Al-Dalea province was liberated from Houthi control by the volunteer forces, known as the Popular Resistance, after months of fighting.

Fighting between the Houthis and the Popular Resistance have also intensified in Taiz.

One local political activist and journalist—who asked to remain anonymous—described the efforts by the Hadi loyalists in the southern city as “heroic,” claiming the Popular Resistance was making headway against the Shi’ite group there.

She also said the Houthis were waging a deliberate campaign against civilians in the city.

“Taiz is now experiencing a genocidal war being waged by this marauding, savage and fierce gang [the Houthis], who are using lethal weapons against a fearless resistance force, which is nonetheless badly organized and lacks training,” the source said.

The Houthis were also using heavy weapons to target civilians in a “haphazard and random” manner in order to frighten them and discourage them from joining the Popular Resistance forces, she added.