Precarious truce starts in Yemen

A shaky truce has taken hold in Yemen under a UN-backed effort to end a war that has made the country a front in Saudi Arabia’s region-wide rivalry with Iran and caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

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The war-damaged capital Sanaa spent a quiet night, witnesses said, but residents said fighting flared in the southwestern city of Taiz soon after the planned start of the cessation of hostilities at 2100 GMT on Sunday (0700 AEST Monday).

The government, which is backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, and its Iranian-allied Houthi adversaries blamed each other for the violence in Taiz, a city that has been hit hard by the war.

The government accused Houthis of using heavy artillery within moments of the start of the truce, while the Houthis said coalition warplanes staged three strikes on the city.

“People are no longer able to live because of the war that destroyed everything,” said Shawqi Abdullah, a 30-year-old taxi driver in Sanaa, which lies in the north of the country.

“We had a calm night with no planes flying or fear of bombs. And we hope the calm will continue and the war ends.”

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The main southern port city of Aden, where coalition fighters expelled Houthi forces in July, was also quiet.

The halt in fighting precedes peace talks set to begin on April 18 in Kuwait under UN auspices between the government and the Houthis foes aimed at ending a conflict that has killed more than 6200 people and displaced millions.

The United Nations special envoy for Yemen said in a statement a committee of military representatives from both sides would work to make the truce hold.

“Now is the time to step back from the brink,” Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said.

“This truce is in its early stages, violations may occur in the beginning, but we hope the next few hours will see more discipline towards the ceasefire,” Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abdel Malek al-Mekhlafi told pan-Arab TV channel al-Arabiya.

The conflict has caused a humanitarian disaster, with nearly half of Yemen’s 22 provinces on the verge of famine, the UN World Food Program said in March.

The UN Children’s Fund said basic services and infrastructure were on the verge of total collapse.