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Tentative Ceasefire Begins in Yemen Amid Threats and Fighting

Both sides said they are committed to the ceasefire despite deadly fighting in the hours leading up to it and mutual threats of retaliation if it is violated.

by Reuters and VICE News
Apr 10 2016, 9:59pm

Combatientes huzíes en Sanaa pocas horas antes de que empiece el alto el fuego, el 7 de abril de 2016. (Imagen por Yahya Arhab/EPA)

A tentative ceasefire began overnight in Yemen on Sunday, and both sides in the year-long conflict have said they are committed to the halt in hostilities despite deadly fighting in the hours leading up to it and mutual threats of retaliation if it is violated.

The conflict between Yemen's Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed forces loyal to former Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has killed more than 6,200 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis in one of the Arab world's poorest countries.

The halt in fighting, which began at midnight local time on Sunday, precedes peace talks that are set to begin on April 18 in Kuwait.

A spokesman for a Saudi-led military coalition, which has been carrying out airstrikes over the past year, urged the Iran-allied Houthis to respect the halt in violence, and threatened to respond aggressively to any violations.

"If there is any violation of this ceasefire, we will have the right to retaliate, to assess the situation at that time and take whatever steps are necessary to stop these violations," Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri said by telephone.

Related: Dead Civilians, Uneasy Alliances, and the Fog of Yemen's War

He said Yemeni military officials and some militia representatives had met over the past two days in southern Saudi Arabia to prepare for the ceasefire and had signed agreements on how it would be implemented and monitored.

The rival sides had formed committees to observe the halt in hostilities and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, he said.

The military alliance will continue to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, he said, and monitor the Saudi-Yemeni border, territorial waters and airspace.

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

A spokesman for the Houthis and their allies said they were also committed to the truce, but also retained the right to retaliate if it is broken by the other side.

Hours before the fighting was due to stop, heavy battles flared between pro-Hadi forces and Houthi fighters in al-Maton, north of Sanaa, residents said.

In the central Bayda province, battles in the al-Sawadiya and al-Zaher districts killed more than 20 people on Sunday, local officials and residents said, and fighting continued in the southwestern city of Taiz.

Related: How the UK Secretly Helped Direct Lethal US Drone Strikes in Yemen

The United Nations, which is involved in efforts to end the conflict, hopes the current cessation in hostilities will lead to a more concrete, formal ceasefire with confidence-building measures.

In the capital Sanaa, controlled for the last 18 months by the Houthis, residents said they desperately wanted this attempt at peace to succeed after two rounds of talks failed last year.

"I am tired of the fighting, the destruction, everything," said Hussein Ali, a 57-year-old government employee.

"The situation is very difficult for people without work, without electricity, without water, and with the fear that, at any moment, bombardment could kill those dear to us."

"I hope that, when I wake up in the morning, the war has stopped," said 16-year-old student Amal Ahmed in Sanaa, "and I can go to school, my classmates too, without being afraid of raids and death."

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