Saudi-led airstrikes continue in Yemen despite peace talks

Sanaa, June 17 (IANS) Fighter jets of the Saudi-led Arab coalition continued to strike Yemen’s capital Sanaa on Wednesday even as a Shia Houthi leader accused Riyadh of hindering the UN-sponsored peace talks.

The airstrikes targeted Houthi militia and military camps loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Xinhua news agency reported.

The raids also targeted houses of military officials in Sanaa and the northern province of Dhamar, assigned by Houthis to run security and military units loyal to Saleh, according to security sources.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Meanwhile, residents in several southern provinces said heavy clashes between Houthis and tribal fighters loyal to President Abdrabouh Mansour Hadi, who is in exile, continued on Wednesday.

They said numerous people were trapped in the crossfire and their homes were destroyed by mortar shells and Katyusha rockets.

The airstrikes came even as the UN-backed talks among Yemen’s warring factions entered the second day in Geneva.

UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, engaged in discussions on Wednesday to bridge differences between the Houthis and representatives of Hadi who insist that the Houthis must withdraw from the cities they seized in September.

In a televised speech on Tuesday, Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi lashed out at Saudi Arabia for the three months of air raids, accusing the kingdom of obstructing UN-backed efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.

“The Saudi regime is interfering to impose its agenda to hinder the Geneva talks,” he said in a speech aired by his group’s media Almasira.

“They have been operating against any peaceful solution to Yemen’s situation. Their meddling intends to transform the Geneva talks to consultation meetings rather than discussions amongst Yemeni factions in order to reach a compromise,” he said.

He added that the Houthis would not withdraw neither from the capital Sanaa or other cities, nor would they hand over weapons they seized from the army.

The Saudi-led coalition forces have launched airstrikes against the Houthis since March in an effort to restore the authority of exiled President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, currently taking refuge in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh.

The UN-brokered peace talks kicked off in Geneva on Monday with the aim of imposing a permanent ceasefire and end weeks of conflict which killed over 2,000 Yemenis.

The talks are sponsored by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and are being attended by the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the ambassadors of China, France, Russia, Britain, the US, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Egypt, Turkey, and the European Union.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been deemed “catastrophic” by the UN with 20 million civilians, or 80 percent of the population, in dire need of aid.

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