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Saudi warplanes launch 28 airstrikes on Yemen, kill 3 amid Sweden peace talks

In this handout file photo taken on April 04, 2015 and released by the United Arab Emirates News Agency (WAM) a fighter jet of the UAE armed forces takes off from an air force base before raids against the Houthi Ansarullah movement. (Photo by AFP)

Saudi warplanes on Thursday launched over 28 airstrikes on various parts of Yemen despite earlier claims that it had ordered its forces halt their attacks on Yemen with the beginning of peace talks in Sweden.

“The fact that the coalition forces and their mercenaries have continued their aggression against Yemen on the first day of peace talks in Sweden indicates that the aggressors have no interest in the establishment of peace and preparing the grounds for a second round of talks,” Yemen’s al-Masirah television network quoted a Yemeni army general as saying.

Three women were killed, and many houses were destroyed in the airstrikes, General Yahya Saree, a spokesman of the Yemeni armed forces, said.

In retaliation, Yemeni army forces, backed by allied fighters from the Houthi Ansarullah movement, hit gatherings of Saudi soldiers and mercenaries in the kingdom’s southwestern Jizan region on Thursday.

Using six domestically-manufactured Zelzal-1 (Quake-1) short-range missiles, they hit the enemy gatherings off Qais Mountain and the village of al-Laj in Jizan province.

The report added that at least three Saudi-led forces had been killed and two others wounded by explosives planted by Yemeni troops in al-Nar Mount area in Jizan.

Meanwhile, al-Masirah said in a separate report that the Yemeni army had managed to shoot down a spy drone belonging to Saudi-led forces in the coasts of Yemen’s western province of Hudaydah.

Later on Thursday, the Yemeni army spokesman said that 28 Saudi mercenaries were killed and 64 others injured during clashes with Yemeni forces in Damt region in the southern province of Dali'.   

The escalation comes as Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy to Yemen, told reporters that the warring sides were willing to work towards a de-escalation of the crisis.

Talks between the Ansarullah movement and the Saudi-led military coalition opened on Thursday in Rimbo, Sweden, a rural area some 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Stockholm.

They are expected to last a week, a UN official told reporters.

The meeting marks the first time warring Yemeni parties have officially met since 2016, when more than 100 days of negotiations in Kuwait yielded no breakthrough in the devastating conflict.

Griffiths said he was cautiously optimistic the talks would help find common ground between the warring parties, particularly over the fate of the city of Hudaydah, which is currently under a tight siege imposed by the invaders.

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for the immediate removal of Saudi Arabia’s blockade on Yemen as the Sweden talks started. He also called on the Ansarullah movement and Yemen’s former Saudi-backed government to show flexibility and make room for progress.

A spokesman for Guterres said later on that the secretary general was specifically appealing to both sides to continue the de-escalation in the port city of Hudaydah, which acts as a lifeline for the entire country.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam told the Arabic-language Al-Mayadeen television channel on Thursday night that his side would decide by Friday whether there was any hope for progress.

"We will judge whether Stockholm talks are serious or not tomorrow (Friday)," he said.

Leading a coalition of its allies, including the United Arab Emirates and Sudan, Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to reinstall former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had resigned amid popular discontent and fled to Riyadh.

The imposed war initially consisted of an airstrike campaign but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground mercenaries to Yemen. 

Since the onset of the aggression, the Yemeni army, backed by fighters from Ansarullah movement, has been defending the impoverished nation against the invaders. The coalition is also resolute to crush the movement as another goal in its war on Yemen, which is teetering on the edge of famine.

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