KUWAIT CITY, April 26, (Agencies): His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah met with Yemen’s peace negotiators Tuesday and urged them to forge ahead with a peace agreement to end 13 months of war in the impoverished Arab nation. A source close to the talks meanwhile said the two sides finally approved a general framework for the talks and were set to start looking into the central issues. More than 6,800 people have been killed and around 2.8 million displaced since a Saudi-led Arab coalition began operations in March 2015 against the Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels who have seized swathes of territory, including the capital Sanaa.
State-run KUNA news agency said His Highness the Amir met with the rebel and government delegations separately and also received UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, but provided no details. “We heard from the Amir of Kuwait clear assurances with regards to supporting the political process to reach a settlement,” said Mohammed Abdulsalam, head of the Houthi delegation. HH the Amir warned that war can only lead to more devastation and bloodshed, Abdulsalam wrote on Facebook. A source close to the government delegation said Sheikh Sabah “urged the two sides to reach a political settlement.” Following the meeting with HH the Amir, a new session of talks was held, a UN spokesman told AFP.
The UN Security Council on Monday urged all sides in the negotiations to be constructive. The 15-member council stressed the importance of agreeing on a “roadmap” to implement security measures including the withdrawal of heavy weapons. Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Monday welcomed “tangible progress” to end hostilities in the war-torn country. “Reports indicate real improvement in the situation which reflects the parties’ commitment to the cessation of hostilities,” he said in a statement at the end of the fifth day of negotiations.
The negotiations represent the best hope in months for a settlement to the conflict. But since the delayed talks began on Thursday, the two delegations have been unable to reach a common understanding on how to firm up a ceasefire that went into effect on April 11. The rebels have insisted that no ceasefire can be established without an end to coalition air strikes and sorties. The government side wants the rebels to lift the siege on cities, open humanitarian passages and release prisoners.
Meanwhile, a suspected US drone strike killed a local leader in al-Qaeda and five of his aides in southern Yemen on Tuesday, residents said, as Yemeni and Emirati troops pressed their offensive against the militant group. Abu Sameh al-Zinjibari and other men died when a missile struck their moving car in Amoudiya, a village near the Qaeda-controlled towns of Jaar and Zinjibar.
Government and Emirati forces based in the port city of Aden, about 40-km (25 miles) away, have been mounting a ground push against towns held by al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) along a vast stretch of Yemen’s coast. AQAP, which has planned several foiled bombing attempts on Westernbound airliners and claimed credit for the 2015 attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s offices in Paris, is considered the most dangerous branch of the global militant group. It is unclear whether the ground fighting is being coordinated with the United States, which has for years launched drone strikes against al-Qaeda throughout the country. US officials said earlier this month they were considering a request from the United Arab Emirates request for air power, intelligence and logistics support.
The UAE is a member of the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in a civil war in Yemen in March 2015 to back Yemen’s government against the Iran-allied Houthi group, opening up a security vacuum that allowed AQAP to seize territory. It led a dramatic shift in strategy for the mostly indecisive campaign this month, spearheading a drive westwards to roll AQAP back from a 600-km (370-mile) stretch of Arabian Sea coastline between Aden and Mukalla. Forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government have retaken the southern coastal city of Mukalla, driving out al-Qaeda militants a year after they captured it, security officials said Tuesday.
The Yemeni forces entered the city late on Monday, following days of heavy airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government. The airstrikes targeted al-Qaeda positions in and outside Mukalla, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. Al-Qaeda’s local branch captured Mukalla last year amid the chaos caused by Yemen’s civil war, which pits forces loyal to Hadi’s government against Shiite rebels known as Houthis and their allies.
The offensive to retake the city started on Saturday, the latest operation against al-Qaeda in southern Yemen. Security officials and witnesses said earlier that many of al-Qaeda’s fighters in Mukalla left the city to escape the heavy Saudi-led coalition airstrikes and shelling by government forces. Troops loyal to Hadi also advanced over the weekend in the town of Koud in southern Abyan province, according to the province’s governor, killing 25 militants from the group in heavy clashes. The coalition has also carried out airstrikes against al-Qaeda positions in the area.
The pro-Hadi troops had been preparing for the offensive for months with the coalition’s support. Heavy fighting is continuing with al-Qaeda militants in Abyan, near the cities of Zinjibar and Jaar. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, viewed by Washington as the group’s most dangerous offshoot, has exploited the confl ict between the Houthis and the government forces to expand its footprint, mostly across southern Yemen.