The Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Iran-linked Houthi rebels in Yemen on Thursday said that it had stopped carrying out attacks there to pave the way for a peaceful settlement.
The statement comes amid growing diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire agreement after more than six years of devastating conflict.
It also follows reports that the coalition had struck a Houthi armored division near the rebel-held capital, Sana’a. Agence France-Presse correspondents in the city heard loud explosions and saw smoke rising in the sky.
However, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told Saudi Arabian state television that “no military operation has been carried out in the vicinity of Sana’a or any other Yemeni cities in the past period.”
The de-escalation is aimed at “preparing the political ground for a peace process in Yemen,” he added.
Shortly after his comments, Yemeni state media reported that at least eight civilians had been killed and 27 others injured in strikes in the northern city of Marib.
It blamed the rebels for the attack.
The government-run Saba news agency said that the Huthis had launched two ballistic missiles and two booby-trapped drones targeting a mosque in a residential area, a women’s prison and ambulances that were rushing to the scene after initial strikes.
Among the casualties were first responders and women, it added.
On Saturday last week, a similar strike killed at least 14 civilians at a petrol station in the city.
The Houthis have led a months-long offensive to seize Marib and its surrounding oil fields — the last significant pocket of government-held territory in the north.
The city’s loss to the Houthis would be a major blow for Yemen’s coalition-backed government, and aid agencies have warned that it could trigger a humanitarian disaster.
Earlier this month, Omani officials visited Sana’a to try to convince the rebels to accept a ceasefire, rebel sources said.
Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood al-Busaidi arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for talks on Wednesday.
In another sign of progress in peace efforts, Houthi officials have begun repairing roads near the airport in Sana’a, local sources told reporters, indicating that the facility could soon be reopened.
The coalition has controlled Yemen’s airspace since it launched a military campaign in 2015 to prop up the country’s internationally recognized government.
The Houthis have repeatedly demanded the re-opening of the airport in the capital before any ceasefire.
The effort to secure peace in Yemen comes after Saudi Arabia and regional rival Iran restarted talks in April, with their first high-level meeting since Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016.
The UN says that Yemen is experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis as its years-long war rumbles on, with tens of thousands killed, millions displaced and two-thirds of its 30 million people dependent on aid.
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