10 Yemeni troops killed as new fighting clouds peace efforts

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At least 10 soldiers have been killed in renewed fighting in Yemen, military sources told AFP on Wednesday, despite diplomatic efforts to stop the long-running war in the Arab world’s poorest country.

The clashes took place in the oil-producing province of Marib, one of the main battlegrounds and the scene of sporadic fighting even during a lull in hostilities over the past year.

Eight years of war left hundreds of thousands dead, through direct and indirect causes, and triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Iran-backed Huthi rebels attacked a mountainous area and were building up forces in the region, two military sources told AFP.

“The Huthis launched an attack on the hills above the Harib area, south of Marib, and made progress in that direction, displacing many families,” said one of the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“At least 10 soldiers were killed, as well as an unknown number of attackers,” the source said. A second military officer confirmed the details of the crash.

The fighting comes a month after at least four soldiers were killed in the same area, and dents of new hope after Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are back opposing sides in what is a proxy war, agreed to restore diplomatic ties.

The analyst Maged Al-Madhaji, commenting on the latest fighting, said that “the Huthis are interested in sending a clear political message that the Tehran-Riyadh deal” means that the rebels will only surrender.

“The Huthis lean more towards the option of military confrontation than the current negotiations,” said Al-Madhaji, co-founder of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies think tank.

– ‘A moment of opportunity’ –

The exchange of hundreds of prisoners was agreed this week and Hans Grundberg, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for Yemen, said that “intense diplomatic efforts” are underway to reach a peace deal.

The Huthis seized control of Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention the following year.

A UN-brokered ceasefire that came into effect last April has seen a sharp decline in hostilities and, although the ceasefire expired in October, fighting is still largely on hold.

On Monday, after talks in Switzerland, the Huthis and internationally recognized government agreed to exchange 887 prisoners — 181 in Huthi prisons and 706 rebels.

During a Security Council meeting last week, United Nations officials said the détente between Saudi Arabia and Iran — welcomed by Huthis and the Yemeni government — should add momentum to peace.

However, it is unlikely to solve all of Yemen’s problems. The influence of the two regional powers is only one aspect of a complex conflict in a country that is fractured regionally and politically, according to analysts.

Also on Wednesday, 141 NGOs in Yemen issued a joint open letter urging the warring parties to reach a ceasefire and move towards a “comprehensive Yemeni peace process”.

“We ask you to ensure that this moment of opportunity grows into lasting peace and promise for the people of Yemen,” said the letter, which was signed by Oxfam, Save the Children and CARE International.

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