Aden, Oct 23: The pro-government Arab coalition today stepped up air strikes on Iran-backed rebels in Yemen and clashes raged on the ground as warring parties ignored a UN call to renew a fragile ceasefire.
The 72-hour ceasefire took effect just before midnight Wednesday to allow aid deliveries in Yemen, whose war has killed thousands of people and left millions homeless and hungry. It officially ended at midnight yesterday.
UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, had appealed for a renewal of the ceasefire, saying humanitarian aid had during the truce reached areas that were earlier inaccessible.
But, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mekhlafi shrugged off the call as "useless", accusing the rebels of ignoring the ceasefire. The truce was the sixth attempt since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in March last year to support the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after Huthi rebels and their allies overran much of the impoverished country.
Ahmed urged "all parties to agree to its extension for at least another renewable 72 hours", in a statement posted on the envoy's Facebook page shortly before it expired. The ceasefire was "largely holding despite reported violations from both sides in several areas", he said.
"We noted over the last days that food and humanitarian supplies were provided to several affected neighbourhoods and that UN personnel were able to reach areas that were previously inaccessible. We would like to build on this and we aim for a wider outreach in the next few days," he added.
But shortly after the appeal, coalition warplanes today pounded positions in Sanaa of the Shiite rebels and their allies, renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, military officials and rebel media said. Rebel-controlled sabanews.net website counted nine air strikes on the capital today. The dawn raids also hit positions in Marib, east of the rebel-held capital, and the southwestern province of Taez, the officials said. The intensity of air raids by the Saudi-led coalition had eased during the ceasefire.
"An extension (of the truce) would be useless, because even if we accept it, the other party does not make any commitment to respect the ceasefire," Mekhlafi told AFP.
"We respect the UN envoy's call for an extension, but in effect, there was no truce due to the violations" by the rebels, the foreign minister said.
Fighting on the ground was showing no signs of abating. Fierce clashes raged in northern regions along the borders with Saudi Arabia over the weekend, killing at least 10 rebels and four Yemeni soldiers, military officials said. Saudi civil defence also reported cross-border bombing which wounded a Yemeni resident of the southwestern city if Najran.