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Yemeni rebels “ready for talks” if air strikes stop

Yemen’s Shia rebels are open to peace talks if the Saudi-led coalition bombing their positions halts aerial attacks against them, a senior Houthi member said.

Saleh al-Sammad, who was an advisor to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, said that if the offer for talks is accepted, negotiations will be mediated by “non-aggressive” parties.

“We still stand by our position on dialogue and we demand its continuation despite everything that has happened, on the basis of respect and acknowledging the other,” said al-Sammad, in answers emailed to the Reuters news agency. 

“We have no conditions except a halt to the aggression and sitting on the dialogue table within a specific time period … and any international or regional parties that have no aggressive positions towards the Yemeni people can oversee the dialogue,” Sammad said, without specifying who they might be. 

Al-Sammad also said that Yemenis reject the return of Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia after the rebels, known as Houthis, moved closer to his southern base of Aden last month. 

Warplanes and ships from a Saudi-led coalition have been bombing the Iran-allied Houthi forces for 11 days in a bid to drive back the Houthis and restore Hadi. UN brokered peace talks in the preceding weeks between Hadi and the Houthis had failed.

Gains in Aden

The comments came amid reports that the rebels, supported by army units, have gained ground in the southern city of Aden, despite continuing air strikes. 

The rebel forces reportedly edged close to the port of Mualla, which is defended by militiamen of “popular committees” loyal to Hadi.  

Residents reported hearing sporadic gunfire and blasts of rocket-propelled grenades. 

Summer Nasser, a human rights activist and blogger, told Al Jazeera that she had to leave her home in Aden because of the fighting. 

“Conditions are devastating actually, we’ve heard shelling by Houthis on homes, civilians killed. There’s no electricity, water. I feel like the humanitarian crisis in Aden is actually getting worse by the hour,” she said. 

Aden, the last foothold of supporters of Hadi, has been shaken by more than a week of fierce clashes between the Houthis and Hadi loyalists. 

At least 185 dead and 1,282 wounded from the clashes have been counted in hospitals in Aden since March 26, the city’s health department director al-Kheder Lassouar said on Saturday.

Vital medical supplies

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Sunday said it would bring vital medical supplies and aid workers into Yemen after receiving approval from the Saudi-led military coalition. 

Marie-Claire Feghali, the agency’s spokesperson in the capital Sanaa, told Al Jazeera: “It is a positive development. We are happy about it. Negotiations have gone well.” 

The ICRC has been negotiating for nearly a week to deliver life-saving supplies and equipment to Yemen.

Ahmed Asiri, the coalition’s spokesman, said on Sunday Saudi Arabia and its allies were “quite keen not to hit any civilians and keen for those who will do the evacuation to go in and do their job”. 

The coalition now controls Yemen’s ports and air space. 

Several foreign governments have stepped up evacuation operations to get their citizens and other expatriates out of Yemen. 

India has successfully evacuated at least 1,800 of its nationals, according to Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson for the ministry of external affairs, who tweeted on Sunday that their forces also rescued at least 170 foreign nationals from 20 other countries to neighbouring Djibouti. 

Algeria evacuated 160 of its citizens, the country’s state news agency APS reported, adding that 40 Tunisians, 15 Mauritians, 8 Libyans, 3 Moroccans, and a Palestinian were also rescued by their forces. 

France released footage of the evacuation of 44 foreigners from Yemen, including several French citizens.

China, Djibouti, Egypt and Sudan, along with two aid groups, were scheduled to carry out evacuations from Sunday while requests from others including Canada, Germany and Iraq were being processed, the coalition has said.

Source: Al Jazeera

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