As Saudi-led coalition forces continue to battle Houthi rebels and their allies on the ground in Yemen while striking from above, footage emerged showing what the rebels claimed was a captured Saudi soldier.
The Houthi-controlled television channel al Masirah broadcast a heavily edited clip of someone who was represented to be one of several Saudi soldiers captured during fighting. Coalition forces have stepped up their ground presence in Yemen during recent weeks.
In the video, the purported soldier identifies himself as hailing from Saudi Arabia's Jizan province, and asks the kingdom's government to end their campaign in Yemen. VICE News could not confirm the identity of the man in the video.
Fighting continued in Marib province, where coalition forces and their local allies have for days battled the Houthis and members of the Yemeni army who are loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and fighting alongside the rebels. The Saudi-led coalition, acting with the blessing of exiled President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has said that it aims to push the Houthis and Saleh loyalists from Marib and continue over mountainous terrain into Sanaa.
Khaled Bahah, Yemen's vice president and prime minister, returned to Aden on Wednesday, where coalition forces and local groups had repelled the Houthis. A spokesperson for the government said Bahah would remain in Aden permanently, but conditions in the city remain precarious. Elements of al Qaeda's Yemeni affiliate are said to roam openly, and many of the fighters that helped expel the Houthis favor independence for the south and have expressed little willingness to continue northward.
Diplomatic efforts to end fighting before a potential battle for Sanaa — already ravaged by daily airstrikes — collapsed this week when Hadi refused to engage in United Nations-brokered talks. He insisted that the Houthis first withdraw from areas they have seized and surrender arms that they have captured over the past year. Those demands were outlined in an April UN Security Council resolution that also levied an arms embargo on high-ranking Houthi officials and Saleh as well as sanctions on one of Saleh's sons and Abdul-Malik al Houthi, a rebel leader.
Khaled Hussein Alyemany, Yemen's ambassador to the UN, told VICE News that the government was willing to discuss the terms of withdrawal and turnover of weapons — many of which were accumulated during Saleh's long rule — but had no control over sanctions. The Houthis and Saleh have indicated to a UN diplomatic team based in Oman that they will accept the resolution, numbered 2216, "with the exception of article[s] which infringe on Yemeni sovereignty and those related to sanctions," as special envoy Ismai Ould Cheikh Ahmed wrote in an email to the UN headquarters in New York that was later leaked.
"All these rumors that the government of Yemen are against taking part in the round of talks, we never mentioned that," said Alyemany. "We believe that they accept 2216 in closed rooms, but in public they never [do]."
The ambassador added that a public statement to the effect of what the Houthis and Saleh have reportedly stated in private should be a prerequisite to setting a venue and date for talks. But in the leaked email, Ould Cheikh Ahmed indicated that officials, including from the United States, were growing frustrated with the lack of interest among the Saudis in working through the UN.
Alyemany said members of the Yemeni army loyal to Saleh would be welcomed back into a reconstituted and unified military.
"The soldier is doing his job, the mistake is of the leadership," he said.
While the Houthis, Saleh, Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition bicker and send mixed messages to the UN, the humanitarian toll of the conflict continues unabated.
Nine civilians were killed on Thursday in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa by a coalition airstrike that had targeted Ibrahim al-Shami, a Houthi leader, according to a Reuters report that cited medical workers. A journalist affiliated with al Masirah was reportedly among the dead after Shami's home was hit. Shami is believed to have been elsewhere at the time.
Nearly 5,000 people have been killed since the start of coalition bombing in late March, almost half of them civilians. According to the UN's children agency, UNICEF, at least 466 children have been killed in that span, with another 658 injured. Armed forces in the country are believed to have recruited nearly 400 child soldiers.
Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford