Middle East

President’s troops break siege of Yemen’s third city

Forces loyal to Yemen's president have broken a siege by the Iranian-allied Houthis around the strategic Yemeni city of Taiz, local fighters and residents said on Saturday, as the United States raised the possibility of a Syrian-style truce in Yemen.

At least 48 people were killed in heavy clashes in Yemen's third biggest city, medics and local fighters said, and at least 120 were wounded. Witnesses said there were bodies scattered in the streets.

Supporters of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, have been trying for months to lift the siege of the southwestern city and open up supply routes.

The coalition has been trying for a year to roll back gains by the Houthi militia and restore Hadi, who is currently in Saudi Arabia. The war has killed more than 6,000 people and displaced millions.

The reported capture of the western entrance to Taiz, nearly half of whose 250,000 residents had been trapped since May, was hailed by the pro-Hadi Sabanew news agency as a major breakthrough. It said Hadi had telephoned the local military commander to congratulate him.

The rival Houthi-run news agency, Sabanews, acknowledged heavy fighting in Taiz but said fighters from the group had killed 27 fighters loyal to Hadi.

Yemeni Vice President Khaled Bahah, who is also the prime minister, told a news conference in the southern port city of Aden that the Yemeni government was preparing an aid convoy to Taiz to leave soon, but gave no further details.

Bahah also said the government had prepared 1,000 men to impose security in Taiz immediately to avoid a repetition of the lawlessness that had gripped Aden after pro-Hadi forces captured the city from the Houthis in July last year.

The United Nations has accused the Houthis of obstructing the delivery of humanitarian supplies to civilians in Taiz, saying residents had been living under "virtual siege".

The Houthis and troops loyal to their ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, remain entrenched in much of the northern half of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa. Islamist militants have exploited the chaos to widen their influence.

Possibility of ceasefire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who met Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir at Hafr al-Batin in northern Saudi Arabia, said they discussed the possibility of a ceasefire in Yemen similar to the arrangement that has been implemented in Syria.

"We both agree that it would be desirable to see if we can find a similar approach, as we did in Syria, to try to get a ceasefire," Kerry said, referring to the truce that has largely held for two weeks in Syria.

Jubeir said Saudi Arabia believed a political settlement that would ensure the Houthis abided by common understandings reached before the Houthi capture of Sanaa would pave the way to a solution.

"We reiterated to the secretary of state our commitment as expressed by the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] heads of state to embark on a long-term reconstruction and development plan for Yemen once the hostilities have ended," Jubeir said.

A delegation from the Houthis is currently in Saudi Arabia for talks on facilitating humanitarian aid to Yemen.

The visit, which Yemeni officials say may be a precursor to resuming UN-sponsored peace talks in Switzerland after two unfruitful rounds last year, came after Saudi Arabia and the Houthis exchanged prisoners last week.

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