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article imageYemen ceasefire due to begin at midnight

By Fawaz al-Haidari (AFP)     Apr 10, 2016 in World

A UN-brokered ceasefire was due to take effect in Yemen late on Sunday ahead of a new attempt to reach a lasting peace deal in the war-wracked Arabian Peninsula country.

The Saudi-led coalition that has waged an air and ground campaign against Iran-backed Huthi rebels since March last year said in a statement it would respect the truce, the fourth since it intervened.

During the countdown to the midnight (2100 GMT) ceasefire, there were sporadic clashes around the rebel-held capital Sanaa, although the city itself was quiet.

Chaos has ruled Yemen since the rebels overran Sanaa in September 2014 and later advanced to other regions, prompting the Saudi-led campaign in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

It is hoped the new ceasefire will form the cornerstone of a long-lasting peace deal that can be hammered out between the country's warring parties from April 18 in Kuwait.

"The Arab coalition is going to respect a ceasefire in Yemen starting from midnight Sunday at the demand of President Hadi but reserves the right to respond" to any rebel attacks, the coalition statement said.

There was no immediate word from the rebels.

Ahead of the planned ceasefire, rebels and their allies exchanged mortar and artillery fire with pro-Hadi forces in the Sarwah region of Marib province east of Sanaa, an AFP correspondent said.

Coalition aircraft also carried out strikes to stop rebels seeking to retake a military base pro-government forces had recaptured in late 2015, military sources said.

- Months of shuttle diplomacy -

A pro-Hadi commander in Sarwah, Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah Hasan, also told AFP that loyalists will "observe the ceasefire".

"But if the Huthis attack us, the situation will return to what it was" before the truce, he warned.

A Yemeni fighter loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi looks at smoke rising in the dista...
A Yemeni fighter loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi looks at smoke rising in the distance in the Sirwah area, in Marib province, on April 10, 2016, during clashes with Shiite Huthi rebels
Nabil Hassan, AFP

Further north, coalition jets struck Huthi positions in Jawf province, the rebels said.

There were also clashes in Nihm northeast of Sanaa, according to witnesses.

But residents of Sanaa spent a quiet night free of the sound of coalition aircraft, an AFP photographer said.

The planned truce was only agreed by the warring sides after months of shuttle diplomacy by UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

The rebels and Hadi's government said this week that they have submitted their observations to the UN mediator on the terms of the ceasefire, which will test their willingness to negotiate a peace deal in Kuwait.

"We will go to the consultations (in Kuwait) to achieve peace," Hadi reiterated on Saturday, insisting however that the rebels must commit to UN Security Council Resolution 2216 calling for their withdrawal from seized territory and disarmament.

Previous UN-sponsored negotiations failed to make any headway, and a ceasefire in December was repeatedly violated and eventually abandoned by the Arab coalition on January 2.

Analysts are more optimistic this time after mediation efforts have largely silenced guns along Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia, and a Huthi delegation has also visited Riyadh for talks.

- 'Long road to peace' -

The Huthis and Saudi Arabia exchanged prisoners in March after unprecedented talks mediated by tribes along the frontier, where dozens of people have been killed in cross-border shelling.

Huthi militiamen hold posters depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah during to sh...
Huthi militiamen hold posters depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah during to show their support to Hezbollah following the Gulf states' announcement declaring the group a " terrorist organization", in Sanaa, on March 3, 2016
Mohammed Huwais, AFP/File

"For the first time, the groups that can end major military operations, particularly the Saudis and the Huthis, appear to be more willing to do so," said April Longley Alley at the International Crisis Group.

But "even if major combat ends, the road to peace in Yemen will be long and difficult and internal conflict is likely to continue for some time".

Yemenis themselves appear to have learned not to get their hopes up.

"I do not expect the truce to succeed," said Marib resident Zayed al-Qaisi. "The Huthis have not honoured their commitments during the wars against the state since 2004."

The Huthis fought six wars with the central government between 2004 and 2010 that killed thousands. Their main foe then, veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was ousted in 2012, is now their ally.

"Even the government cannot force us to respect a ceasefire as we have not liberated our territories" from the rebels, said Qaisi.

Sanaa resident Ali Mohsen doubted that Riyadh would commit to the truce.

Yemeni children stand inside their house which was destroyed several months ago in an air-strike by ...
Yemeni children stand inside their house which was destroyed several months ago in an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition, on March 12, 2016, in the capital Sanaa
Mohammed Huwais, AFP/File

"Saudi Arabia is just procrastinating and being deceptive," said the 50-year-old.

Umm Mohammed, waiting outside a central Sanaa school, agreed that the truce is "a deception. We tried it unsuccessfully before."

"I want a real end to the war."

The UN says more than 6,300 people have been killed in impoverished Yemen since March last year -- around half of them civilians -- and 30,000 have been wounded.

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