Yemen foreign minister snubs Saleh’s call for peace talks

Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen Sunday rejected a call for peace talks issued by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and said a Saudi-led military campaign against Iran-allied Houthi fighters opposed to his government had not ended.

Yaseen was speaking after air raids, naval shelling and ground fighting shook Yemen in some of the most widespread combat the country has seen since the Saudi-led alliance intervened last month.

There were at least five airstrikes on military positions and an area near the presidential palace compound in Houthi-held Sanaa at dawn Sunday, while warships pounded an area near the port of the southern city of Aden, residents said.

“The explosions were so big they shook the house, waking us and our kids up. Life has really become unbearable in this city,” a Sanaa resident who gave his name as Jamal told Reuters.

The strikes on Sanaa were the first since the Saudi-led coalition said last week it was scaling back a campaign against the Houthis. But the air raids soon resumed as the Houthis’ nationwide gains had not been notably rolled back, and there has been no visible progress toward peace talks.

Fighters loyal to Saleh have been battling alongside Houthi rebels.

Saleh Friday called on all Yemenis to return to political dialogue to find a way to end the country’s spiraling conflict.

“These calls are unacceptable after all the destruction Ali Abdullah Saleh has caused. There can be no place for Saleh in any future political talks,” Yaseen said in London.

Saudi Arabia said last week it was ending a monthlong campaign of airstrikes against the Houthis and that it would back a political solution to bring peace to its war-ravaged neighbor. But coalition forces continued to bomb targets inside Yemen after the announcement.

“Operation Decisive Storm has not ended,” Yaseen said, referring to the Saudi-led campaign. “There will be no deal with the Houthis whatsoever until they withdraw from areas under their control,” such as Sanaa.

Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan visited King Fahd air base in Saudi Arabia’s Taif Sunday and reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the Saudi-led coalition.

“Our only choice is victory in the test of Yemen,” the official WAM news agency quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, the new U.N. envoy to Yemen, Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was looking to kickstart peace talks.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed “will work closely with the members of theUnited Nations Security Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council, governments in the region and other partners,” a U.N. statement said. Eyewitnesses in Aden said foreign warships shelled Houthi emplacements around the city’s main commercial port and dockyard.

Aden residents reported heavy clashes between local armed militia from Yemen’s Sunni south and Houthis backed up by army units loyal to Saleh.

Militia sources said they retaliated for the first time with tank and Katyusha rocket fire. Airstrikes backed up local militia in clashes near Aden’s airport.

In the southern province of Dalea, militia said they had fought for hours to retake several rural districts from the Houthis with the help of airstrikes. The fighting left around 25 Houthis and six local militiamen dead.

A grouping of armed tribesmen and Sunni Islamist fighters in the strategically important central Yemeni city of Taiz took back several districts from the Houthis in heavy fighting, according to residents there.

Medics reported that four civilians were killed when a rocket landed in a street and shelling damaged a main hospital.

The battlefield setbacks for the Houthis occurred in an area they held largely unopposed for more than a month, and suggest that the air campaign has emboldened armed opposition groups.

Other airstrikes hit Houthi bastions in Saada province along Yemen’s northern border with Saudi Arabia, and Saudi ground forces also shelled the city of Haradh in neighboring Hajja province, residents said.

Iran’s navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said Sunday that it would keep warships in the Gulf of Aden for at least several months.

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