Yemen ceasefire brings rare respite from fighting

Sunday 20/11/2016
Ceasefire could be extended if rebels hold fire

SANAA - Yemen saw a rare respite from fighting Sunday, the second day of a 48-hour ceasefire that followed a US push to halt a conflict that has wrought devastation and killed thousands.
A correspondent in Sanaa said there had not been any Saudi-led air strikes in the rebel-held capital since the ceasefire took effect, and officials in Taez said it was also calm in the flashpoint southwestern city.
The ceasefire comes after US Secretary of State John Kerry met rebel representatives in Oman and urged the internationally recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to come on board.
The conflict erupted in 2014, when the Iran-backed Huthi rebels and their allies of renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh overran Sanaa and other parts of Yemen.
It escalated in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia -- the archfoe of Iran -- launched a military campaign to drive back the rebels, and the UN says more than 7,000 people have been killed and nearly 37,000 wounded since.
The ceasefire was taking hold in Sanaa despite intermittent fighting reported in Nahm, near the capital, in the hours after it began at midday (0900 GMT) on Saturday.
Taez was also calm, according to a military official who only spoke of a "limited exchange of fire" after dozens were killed during battles in the city this week.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition's air defences destroyed three ballistic missiles the rebels fired at dawn at Marib province, east of Sanaa, a military official said.
Coalition spokesman Major General Ahmed Assiri accused the Huthis of 180 violations in the first 10 hours of the ceasefire.
He said 150 breaches took place in Yemen, while 30 others were along the northern border with Saudi Arabia, according to Al-Jazeera news network.
At first Hadi's government rejected the peace bid, saying it had not been consulted, while the Huthis and Saleh declared their commitment to it.
But the government came under huge pressure to back down in the face of an international outcry over the mounting civilian death toll.
The Huthis on Sunday welcomed "all efforts to end the aggression" but denounced the Saudi side for escalations "during the so-called ceasefire", according to the rebel-controlled website.
Relief agencies had been hoping the ceasefire would allow delivering aid to the needy in areas that were inaccessible due to fighting.
UN children's aid agency UNICEF said the ceasefire "offers new hope in a situation that is increasingly catastrophic for children".
The conflict has killed well over 1,000 children and left millions more without access to basic care and at risk of imminent death, said UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake.
One and a half million children were suffering from acute malnutrition, and thousands more were at risk from rapidly spreading cases of cholera and measles.
"For some time now we have been constrained in our efforts to reach these children with therapeutic food and medical supplies," Lake said in a statement.
"We urge all parties to the ceasefire to allow unhindered humanitarian access for the delivery of life-saving supplies and services to all children in need.
"It cannot be in anyone's interest to endanger the future of Yemen -- its children," he added.
The 48-hour ceasefire could be extended if the rebels hold fire and allow aid into besieged loyalist enclaves, the coalition said.
The spokesman of defected Yemeni troops, Brigadier General Sharaf Luqman, said on Saturday that they would also abide by the ceasefire.
Six previous attempts to clinch a ceasefire have foundered, the latest in October.
UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed urged all parties "to encourage full respect for the cessation of hostilities and to ensure that it leads to a permanent and lasting end to the conflict".
Hadi has rejected a UN proposal to step down while his government forms a unity administration with the rebels.
In an apparent bid to prove his legitimacy, the coalition underlined that the ceasefire came at Hadi's request.