Fierce fighting in northern Yemen kills over 75

Fierce fighting in northern Yemen kills over 75
Fighting and airstrikes pounded northern, as the warring parties continued to violate a ceasefire agreement on Saturday and undermine tenuous peace talks in Switzerland.
4 min read
19 December, 2015
Yemen's conflict has been raging since March [AFP]
Fierce fighting in northern Yemen near Saudi border kills over 75 troops, security sources said on Saturday.

The clashes in Hajjah Province near the Saudi border between rebel-allied units and pro-government Yemeni forces have killed more than 75 over the past three days, Yemeni security officials and witnesses said.

The dead included more than 40 rebels and 35 government troops, with 50 wounded on the rebel side and dozens wounded on the government side.

Most were killed by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition that dominates the skies in Yemen, said the witnesses and security officials, who remain neutral in the conflict that has splintered Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country.

Dozens of tanks and armored vehicles were destroyed.

The government troops advanced across the border from Saudi territory after training there for months, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to brief reporters. 

Yemen's fighting pits the internationally recognised government backed by a Saudi-led, US supported coalition against the rebels, known as Houthis, who are allied with a former president and backed by Iran.

Local affiliates of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos to grab land and exercise influence.

According to UN figures, the war in Yemen has killed at least 5,884 people since March, when fighting escalated after the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes targeting the rebels.

Prisoner release

The fighting comes as participants at Yemen peace talks in Switzerland say rebels have agreed to release five high-profile prisoners, including the president's brother and the defence minister, as a gesture of goodwill. 

They say Defence Minister, Mahmoud Subaihi, and General Nasser Mansour Hadi, brother of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, will be handed over to the Red Cross with the other three prisoners later on Saturday.

The participants, one from the Houthi rebel delegation and the other from Yemen's internationally recognised government, spoke anonymously as they were not authorised to brief reporters.


Negotiators taking part in Yemen peace talks in Switzerland also agreed on Saturday to create a "neutral" committee to monitor the country's fragile ceasefire after new clashes left it in tatters.

"There is an understanding over forming a neutral military committee tasked with monitoring the ceasefire," a source close to the government delegation said.

The development came after the ceasefire, which took effect on Tuesday and was supposed to last a week, all but collapsed Friday as government forces seized two towns from rebels and their Saudi-led Arab coalition allies accused the insurgents of escalating the conflict by firing ballistic missiles.

UN special envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had on Friday voiced alarm at the widespread ceasefire violations.

His office said the negotiating parties in Switzerland had created "a coordination and de-escalation committee ... to strengthen adherence to the cessation of hostilities."

The negotiators met at a hotel in the northwestern Swiss city of Biel for a fifth day of talks Saturday as they scramble to end the spiralling conflict.

Little progress

But sources close to both delegations said on Saturday afternoon that the talks had ended for the day with little progress.

A source close to the delegation representing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government said there had been no agreement on the general framework for the talks and no agreement on the opening of humanitarian corridors.

On Thursday, the UN had said that the two sides had agreed to "a full and immediate resumption of humanitarian assistance" in the flashpoint city of Taez in what the UN envoy had called "a major step forward".

But a local relief group, the Humanitarian Relief Coalition, said no UN aid had reached the city, accusing rebels of blocking aid delivery to areas where Hadi loyalists were holed up.

In a letter submitted by the government delegation to the talks Saturday a lawyer in Taiz accused the rebels of confiscating aid sent by the UN World Food Programme.

In another move that had been seen as promising, the pro-government forces and rebels completed an exchange of hundreds of prisoners in the southern province of Lahj on Thursday.

But the government delegation source told AFP the sides on Saturday had failed to agree any further such moves.

Government forces trained in nearby Saudi Arabia crossed the border from the kingdom Thursday and seized Haradh.