CAIRO (AP) — Britain’s ambassador to Yemen said Thursday he has spoken with representatives from the country’s warring sides and that he expects them to attend peace talks that are to begin next week in Stockholm.
However, overnight fighting cast a cloud on efforts to establish a cease-fire in the war-torn Arab country. Peace talks to end Yemen’s three-year war pitting a Saudi-led coalition and rival Iran-aligned Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, have repeatedly fallen through, most recently in September after the rebels did not attend.
Ambassador Michael Aron posted on Twitter that he had spoken with Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a spokesman for the rebels, and also met with Khaled al-Yemeni, the foreign minister for Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
“I have booked my trip and look forward to seeing you there leading your delegation,” he said in an Arabic message to Abdel-Salam. “The political solution is the way forward and these consultations are a great step forward.”
Aron also sent al-Yemeni a similar message, but did not mention where they had met.
In the latest sign that de-escalation efforts are failing on the ground however, the Houthis said they fired ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for the first time since saying they would stop such cross-border attacks on Nov. 18 as a sign of good will. Combat also continues in other areas throughout the country.
The rebels said that they fired the Badr-1 missiles into the southern Saudi border region of Najran, claiming they hit an air base, destroyed Apache attack helicopters and killed two pilots from the Saudi-led coalition. Saudi authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Hours earlier on Wednesday night, the rebels called for suspending truce efforts in Yemen over what they alleged was U.S. opposition to the text of a British cease-fire initiative at the United Nations.
The United Nations says that both Yemen’s Saudi-backed internationally recognized government and the rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, have agreed to attend the peace talks. Later in the day, the Houthis said in a statement that they would be in attendance if safe travel could be guaranteed.
Also on Thursday, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock arrived in Sanaa, holding a press conference highlighting the deteriorating humanitarian conditions and stressing the need to allow aid shipments to flow freely.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthis, who toppled the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015.
Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, and the Houthis have fired long-range missiles into the kingdom and targeted its vessels in the Red Sea. Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the war and U.N. food agency chief David Beasley said last week that as many as 12 million of the 28 million Yemenis “are just one step away from famine.”
In a statement late Thursday, Hadi described the Houthi presence as an “Iranian coup,” but also expressed his hopes for the future of a federal state in Yemen.
Associated Press writer Ahmed al-Haj contributed from Sanaa, Yemen.