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Yemen: Government, Houthis rush to reach ceasefire ahead of peace talks deadline - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (C), United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (L), and Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva Michael Møller (R), attend a news conference at the Geneva Consultations on Yemen peace talks between Yemen's warring factions, at the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 15, 2015. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (C), United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed (L), and Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva Michael Møller (R), attend a news conference at the Geneva Consultations on Yemen peace talks between Yemen’s warring factions, at the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 15, 2015. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)

Geneva, Asharq Al-Awsat—UN-sponsored talks between Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels continued in Geneva on Thursday as rivals found themselves in a race against time to reach a humanitarian truce hours ahead of an approaching deadline, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.

The peace talks are expected to end on Friday or Saturday.

Yemen has been in a state of turmoil since September when Houthi rebels overran the capital Sana’a amid little resistance from government forces.

President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia in March after escaping a Houthi-imposed house arrest. At his request, Riyadh launched an aerial campaign against the rebels on March 26, targeting the Houthis and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh who stands accused of facilitating the rebel power-grab.

Hamza Al-Houthi, head of the Houthi delegation, told reporters on Thursday that there were signs of “progress” which may lead to a truce “within hours.”

“The consultations are comprehensive and should lead to an integrated and comprehensive solution on the political, military and security levels,” the Houthi leader said.

A representative of the General People’s Congress (GPC,) which is allied to the Houthi rebels, also expressed optimism over a potential ceasefire in Yemen.

“You will witness progress in the coming hours,” Yasser Al-Awadi, a leading figure in the Saleh-led GPC, told reporters.

The peace talks have made slow progress, and constant interference from the Houthis in the work of the UN organizers delayed launch of consultations until last Monday, a diplomatic source told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The diplomat, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “The Houthi movement has placed many obstacles regarding its level of representation, the number of participants, the talks’ mechanisms and the meetings’ agenda.”

But UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the diplomat said, has saved the talks by persuading the Houthis to participate.

According to the source, Washington is also pressuring the Houthis to agree to a deal that would see them withdraw from the areas under their control in exchange for a humanitarian truce that could eventually serve as a basis for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah warned that Houthis would use a ceasefire to increase their gains.

“We are hoping for a permanent humanitarian ceasefire, not a temporary truce. Because a temporary truce is exploited to spread the battlefield and as a tactical measure by some parties,” he told reporters during a joint news conference with the Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby in Cairo on Thursday.

Bahah said Houthis had used the humanitarian, five-day ceasefire which the UN brokered in May to seize more areas of Yemen.

He added: “Our message in Geneva is to stop the war… and bring the situation back to normal.”