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UN Poised for Yemen Cease-Fire, Peace Talks

  • Lou Lorscheider

FILE - Shiite Houthi rebels attend a rally to protest Saudi-led airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, in August 2015.

FILE - Shiite Houthi rebels attend a rally to protest Saudi-led airstrikes, in Sanaa, Yemen, in August 2015.

A cease-fire in Yemen aimed at halting more than a year of fighting between Iran-backed Shi'ite rebels and an Arab coalition is set to take hold early Tuesday, as United Nations-brokered peace talks open in Switzerland.

The degree of commitment to the seven-day truce — previewed last week by U.N. envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed — remained unclear late Monday, with no word on whether Iranian-backed Houthi rebels will honor the deal. The truce is set to begin at 0900 UTC.

For their part, Saudi coalition commanders released a statement Monday endorsing the temporary halt to fighting, "while retaining the right to respond to any breach of the cease-fire."

FILE - A Saudi soldier aims his weapon toward the Yemen border in Jizan, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2015.

FILE - A Saudi soldier aims his weapon toward the Yemen border in Jizan, Saudi Arabia, April 20, 2015.

Yemen's conflict has pitted local forces loyal to internationally recognized President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and his Saudi coalition fighters against Shi'ite Houthis and other militias loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The conflict erupted in September 2014, when Houthis seized the capital, Sana'a, before pushing southward and forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia as they took control of the port city of Aden.

The Saudi government responded with coalition airstrikes that have since pushed rebels out of Aden and allowed Hadi to return to that city. Rebels still control Sana'a.

Last month, top regional U.N. official Johannes van der Klaauw said the fighting has killed an estimated 5,700 people since March, when the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes. He described the impoverished country on the Arabian peninsula as "grappling with a breakdown of essential services and forced displacement."

He also said more than 21 million of the country's 27 million residents are in need of humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs, adding that some 3 million children and pregnant women are in need of preventative services to stave off malnutrition.

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