x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ceasefire in Yemen lasts only briefly

Truce collapses shortly after it was announced.

SANAA // A truce reached by the Yemeni government and dissidents who have been locked in battles for weeks collapsed shortly after it was announced by a local committee, the state news agency reported.

The government and dissident general Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar had reached a ceasefire agreement, according to an official statement. Tribal forces in Al Hasaba led by powerful chief Sheikh Sadiq Al Ahmar, who backs the general and has thrown his support behind pro-democracy protests across Yemen, also agreed to the ceasefire, said reports.

But heavy gunfire and huge blasts were heard in Hasaba and Sufan neighbourhoods of the capital, Sanaa, after the ceasefire went into effect at 3pm.

Earlier in the day, eight civilians, including a child, were killed and more than 38 people wounded as crossfire between government troops and opposition fighters continued in the city of Taiz, witnesses said.

The interior ministry said three soldiers were killed and seven others wounded in the clashes in Taiz.

Forces loyal to Mr Saleh have been shelling Taiz, south of Sanaa, since Monday evening with mortars and tanks.

"The city has been rocked by an unprecedented shelling, which has caused a lot destruction and damage. Several houses have been damaged and some were seen on fire. It is a human calamity," said Fuad Ali, a Taiz resident.

In Sanaa, at least two protesters were shot dead yesterday when forces loyal to Mr Saleh opened fire and used tear gas on tens of thousands marching toward the capital's Al Qaa neighbourhood, demanding the departure of Mr Saleh, said medics and activists.

"The people want to prosecute the mass killer," the protesters chanted.

Mohammed Al Qubati, a coordinator of the makeshift field clinic at the protest camp, said 51 protesters were wounded by live rounds while 225 others suffered from tear gas inhalation. Human-rights groups said one protester was killed when crushed by a government armoured vehicle.

Violence has escalated in Yemen since the UN Security Council issued a resolution on Friday calling for Mr Saleh to immediately accept a peace proposal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council that would see him leave office in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Three times previously, Mr Saleh has backed away from signing the Gulf initiative and he has said he will only transfer power into "safe hands".

On Monday representatives from Mr Saleh's ruling General People's Congress met Gulf and European diplomats in Sanaa to discuss a framework for implementing the GCC initiative, officials said.


* With additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse