UN-sponsored negotiations on the Yemen crisis have started in Geneva, with the aim of ending the bloody conflict in the country.
Representatives from Yemen’s exiled government, the Houthi fighters, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General Peoples’ Congress and other opposition groups are expected to attend the talks in Switzerland, which began on Monday morning.
Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesperson, said the Houthi delegation would arrive on Tuesday morning in a UN-chartered plane.
The plane started the trip to Switzerland on Monday but it had to turn back to Yemen.
Zif al-Shami, the leader of the delegation, said Egypt, which is part of the anti-Houthi Arab coalition, refused to allow it to land at Cairo airport, an accusation the Egyptians denied.
Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, attended the opening session of the talks, posing for photographs with a number of representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
He called on all sides to implement a new “humanitarian pause” at the start of Ramadan later this week.
“The region simply cannot sustain another open wound like Syria and Libya,” he said.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN’s peace envoy for Yemen, issued a statement before the talks, calling on “Yemen’s political actors to participate in these consultations in good faith and without preconditions, and in a climate of trust and mutual respect”.
However, despite UN spokesperson Ahmed Fawzy’s direct appeal for all parties to “observe a humanitarian pause to create a climate conducive to moving forward in this consultation”, fresh air strikes were reported in Yemen.
Sources said that the Arab coalition carried out air raids on weapons stores in the capital Sanaa on Sunday night.
The opposing sides were still a long way apart on how to bring peace to Yemen.
The Houthis wanted formal acknowledgement of a deal it signed with exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi when they took over Sanaa last September, whereas the exiled government wanted to scrap that deal and start again.
“This is an extremely delicate situation for the international community and the United Nations,” sources said, adding that the two sides would initially start the talks in separate rooms.
The peace talks have sparked some hope among Yemeni civilians for an early resolution to the conflict.
“We hope that something positive will come out of these meetings between the various Yemeni parties because we want the war to be over,” Saber Nouman, a Yemeni national said.
“We want stability and we hope that the siege will be lifted soon because we are suffering. As you can see, there is a shortage when it comes to everything – fuel, bread, water, medical supplies. We are suffering every day because of the siege and because of this aggressive war.”
The Arab coalition has been bombarding the Houthis and allied army units since March 26 in a campaign aimed at restoring Hadi to power.
The conflict has killed more than 2,000 people so far, about of half of whom were civilians.