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Exclusive: UN Source Says Houthi Rebels Willing to Withdraw From Key Yemen Cities

A diplomatic source tells VICE News that the Houthis have offered to give up the southern city of Taiz and potentially withdraw from other key cities.

by Samuel Oakford
Aug 12 2015, 8:10pm

Imagen por Yahya Arhab/EPA

In a development that could bring an end to the bloody conflict in Yemen, the country's Houthi rebels have expressed willingness to abide by the terms of a UN Security Council resolution that ordered their withdrawal from key Yemeni cities, VICE News has learned exclusively.

A diplomatic source involved in the UN-brokered negotiations told VICE News that the Houthi leadership has offered to give up the southern city of Taiz, and could eventually agree to the terms of Security Council resolution 2216. Approved in April, the resolution demanded that the rebels "withdraw their forces from all areas they have seized, including the capital, Sanaa."

"They are offering to implement [resolution] 2216, but according to certain mechanisms," the UN official, who had discussed the matter with Houthi representatives, told VICE News. "They agree with it in principle, but they want discussion.

"There is sequencing — first Taiz, then other places," the official added.

The rebels, who hail from the country's north and are largely members of the minority Zaydi Shia community, have suffered a series of setbacks in the last month.

In late March, after a blitzkrieg offensive that saw the Houthis capture several key cities and approach the southern port of Aden, a Saudi-led coalition began bombing the rebels. The coalition supports Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Yemen's deposed president who fled to Riyadh in March.

Related: Under Fire: Inside the Siege of Aden

Armed groups in Yemen's south, pro-Hadi factions, coalition bombardment, and Emirati special forces soldiers combined to expel the Houthis from Aden last month. In recent days, pro-Hadi forces have advanced northward toward Taiz, reportedly aided by coalition armaments and vehicles. On Tuesday, Houthi forces were attacked in the city of Ibb, to the northwest of Taiz.

The UN official told VICE News it was unclear how the Saudi-led coalition, buoyed by its recent success, would approach the offer recently conveyed to UN mediators by the Houthis. UN special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheick Ahmed is currently in Riyadh, were he was briefing members of the Security Council by video conference on Wednesday afternoon.

It was also uncertain to what degree the rebels would follow through on such a promise. Several announced pauses in the fighting have been completely ignored by all sides.

More than 4,000 Yemenis — half of them civilians — have been killed since the end of March. Both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis have been accused by human rights officials of actions that likely amount to war crimes.

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford

Top photo shows Houthi supporters protesting Saudi-led military operations at a rally in Yemen's capital on August 11, 2015.

Watch the VICE News documentary, Inside War-Torn Yemen: Sanaa Under Attack: