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UN Envoy Arrives in Yemen to Try to Advance Peace Talks

A tank operated by the government army fires at Houthi positions in the al-Labanat area, between Yemen's northern provinces of al-Jawf and Marib, Dec. 5, 2015.

The U.N. envoy to Yemen met President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi on Saturday to discuss prospects for peace talks between his embattled Aden-based government and Houthi forces, a source close to Yemen's president said.

Forces loyal to Hadi, backed by mainly Gulf Arab states, have been locked in eight months of civil war with the Iran-allied Houthis who rule the capital, Sana'a.

Previous U.N.-led efforts to end the conflict through dialogue have failed as battles rage across the country and Saudi-led warplanes bomb positions of the Houthi group and its Yemeni army allies.

The source said U.N. envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's talks with Hadi aimed to lay the groundwork for a second round of talks in Geneva.

It was Ahmed's first official visit to Aden, which Hadi declared the temporary capital after Arab coalition forces seized it from the Houthis in July. But the government and its Gulf allies have struggled to impose their authority in the city, which teems with shadowy gunmen who carried out two shootings Saturday.

Eyewitnesses said attackers on motorbikes shot dead Muhsin Alwan, a prominent judge in an anti-terrorism court, and his two sons inside a supermarket in the Aden district of Mansura. Gunmen killed a military police colonel in the Mualla neighborhood earlier in the day.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and more recently Yemen's branch of Islamic State have claimed credit for attacks in Aden.

Doubts about talks

Diplomats said peace talks might take place this month in Switzerland, but some Yemeni officials have expressed skepticism that they would go ahead.

The Houthi group swept Hadi from power in February as part of it what called a revolution against corruption, and they accused Hadi of being beholden to Saudi Arabia and the West.

Gulf Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia intervened as the civil war worsened in March, fearing the group was acting as a proxy for its regional rival, Iran, but making few gains toward retaking the capital in a war that has killed over 5,700 people.

Mistrust runs deep between Yemen's warring parties, with the Houthis believing the government wants to take back power by force and Hadi officials saying that the Houthis are refusing to withdraw from main cities as required by a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in March.

"The government is ready for talks, but the other side isn't, and their actions on the ground contradict their statements that they support a peaceful solution," Abdel-Malek al-Mekhlafi, who was named foreign minister by Hadi last week, told Reuters.