SANAA: A ceasefire between Shia Muslim rebels and government forces went into effect yesterday, the Yemeni Defence Ministry said, after fresh fighting and air strikes killed a total of 19 people from both sides.
Nearly 140 people have died in three days of fighting near the town of Omran, where government forces and allied Sunni Muslim tribesmen have been trying to hold back the powerful rebel militia from capturing the city for nearly two months.
US-allied Yemen, an impoverished country of 25 million that shares a long and porous border with the world’s top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, has been in turmoil since 2011, when mass protests forced long-ruling president Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
The fighting in northern Yemen, which had taken on a sectarian tone, has further unsettled a country struggling to overcome many problems.
The Defence Ministry said the agreement, which calls for deploying neutral observers to monitor the truce, had taken effect from 1200 (0900 GMT).
It also called on both sides to stop sending reinforcements to Omran, withdraw from the central prison and open the main road between Omran and the capital Sanaa.
The agreement came after the fighting which began earlier this week intensified with the Yemeni army using the air force to deliver deadly strikes on Houthi rebel positions in Omran.
Ahmed Al Bekry, deputy governor of Omran province, said on Tuesday that more than 100 rebels and about 20 government soldiers had died in fighting and in air strikes on Houthi positions the day before.
Hours before the ceasefire went into effect, Houthi fighters killed five government soldiers in clashes outside the city of Omran, according to Houthi rebels, who also said that 40 government troops surrendered to the group.
The Yemeni air force responded with air strikes and killed at least 15 fighters, local tribal chiefs said.
The groups’ top leader, Abdel-Malik Al Houthi, proposed a ceasefire on Tuesday night and offered to free 100 government soldiers held by the group as part of an agreement with the Defence Ministry that would guarantee the safety and security of Omran’s inhabitants.
“We are willing to cooperate in a manner that would serve security and stability,” Abdel Malik said in the statement.