A five-day humanitarian truce went into effect in Yemen overnight Monday, hours after forces allied with a Saudi-led coalition fought Houthi militia for control of the country’s largest air base north of Aden. The fighting at the al-Anad base, 50 km from the southern port city, and lack of a clear acceptance to its terms by the Iranian-allied Houthi movement cast a shadow over the cessation of fighting.
The Arab coalition on Saturday announced a cease-fire to take effect at 11.59 p.m. Sunday evening for five days to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The head of the Houthi supreme revolutionary committee, Mohammad Ali al-Houthi, said in comments carried by the Saba news agency that the group was not notified by the United Nations about the cease-fire and would not form a position toward it until then.
“There is no positive or negative stance until the United Nations formally addresses us concerning the matter,” he said.
The Iranian-allied Houthi movement accuses its Saudi-supported foes of being in cahoots with Islamist militants such as Al-Qaeda, something the coalition denies.
Houthi forces held up 16 trucks carrying aid from the World Food Program through Yemen’s Hudaydah province to support displaced persons in the city of Taiz.
Four months of air raids and war have killed more than 3,500 people in the Arabian Peninsula state. Aden has suffered especially, with severe shortages of fuel, food and medicine.
The Arab coalition, allied with southern secessionist fighters, retook much of Aden last week in the first significant ground victory in their campaign to end Houthi control over much of Yemen and restore exiled President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi.
Houthi fighters and army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh captured Aden at the outset of the war, prompting Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia, an ally along with the United States.
In Riyadh, Hadi Sunday received the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. The two “discussed coordination over humanitarian aid delivery within the framework of the declared truce,” a Yemeni presidency source said.
The Saudi-led coalition announced the five-day truce to allow aid deliveries, but also said it reserved the right to respond to “military activity or movement.”
The truce was announced at Hadi’s request, it said.
Aden and other southern provinces have been largely inaccessible to U.N. aid, and about 13 million people – over half the population – are thought in dire need of food.
Coalition warplanes carried out raids near Sanaa late Saturday and shortly after dawn Sunday, residents reported. The targets included a military base near the city.
In the city itself, a bomb exploded underneath a passenger bus, killing three people and wounding five in the southern district of Dar Selm, police said. No further details were immediately available.
Ali Ahmedi, a spokesman for anti-Houthi forces in Aden, said they continued to fight Houthi forces at the al-Anad base and had damaged aircraft, tanks and equipment stationed there.
Residents said forces of the so-called Southern Resistance, a secessionist movement allied with the coalition, had taken Sabr, a northern district of Aden. The residents reported 25 Houthis and 10 Southern Resistance fighters had been killed.
A senior Houthi commander, Abdul-Khaliq al-Houthi, was captured on Saturday by the Southern Resistance, the secessionist movement said on its official Twitter account.
Houthi officials could not immediately be contacted for comment. Reuters could not independently verify the information.
Yemenis say Abdul-Khaliq al-Houthi, a brother of Houthi leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, played an important role in the militia’s capture of Sanaa in September.