Yemen fighting mars truce as UN envoy pushes for talks

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SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Fighting was underway across Yemen on Friday, the third day of a humanitarian truce between a Saudi-led coalition and Shiite rebels, as the U.N. envoy pushed for holding peace talks in Geneva.

Yemeni officials reported clashes in the southern city of Aden, the western cities of Taiz and Dhale and the provinces of Marib and Shabwa, despite the five-day cease-fire. Tribal sources said Saudi artillery shelled border areas in the rebels' northern heartland. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.

At least nine civilians were killed by shelling in Taiz, a medical official there said. Witnesses confirmed heavy clashes in Dhale and said large convoys of Shiite rebels and allied forces were deployed to Aden. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

The fighting pits the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and allied military units against loyalists of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the country in March. A Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the rebels from the air since March 26.

The truce has been violated on a number of occasions, with the rivals blaming one another.

The U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has proposed peace talks in Geneva. Rebel spokesman Hamed al-Bokheiti said the Houthis are willing to hold talks in any "neutral" country.

Yemen's conflict has killed more than 1,400 people — many of them civilians — since March 19, according to the U.N. The country of some 25 million people has endured shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity as a result of a Saudi-led blockade.

On Friday, The U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, said the humanitarian situation "remains extremely preoccupying and ... the needs are still growing."

"At the moment, the pause is globally holding, though I have to say every day we see skirmishes — localized, short duration but we still see that there is military activity — so it remains to be seen whether the opportunities provided can be used to maximum and optimum use," Van Der Klaauw said.

He said the U.N. had brought 430,000 liters of fuel into the country but is struggling to get it to hospitals, water installations and other facilities.

The U.N. refugee agency said the first of six planes carrying supplies landed in Yemen on Friday, with another flight expected later in the day and the other four set to arrive over the next two days. Together, they will carry 150 metric tons of supplies, including blankets and sleeping mats, into Sanaa, a statement said. The rebels seized the capital last year.

More aid is on its way by sea, the statement added. The UNHCR estimates that 450,000 Yemenis have been displaced from their homes by the conflict.

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