The new UN envoy to Yemen has arrived in the capital Sanaa, according to Yemen’s state news agency, with just hours to go before a proposed five-day truce begins between an Arab coalition and Iran-allied Houthi fighters.
Within hours of the arrival of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Tuesday, agencies citing medics reported that 69 people were killed in arms-depot blasts in Sanaa after an air strike.
Ahmed, a Mauritanian diplomat who was appointed into the position in April, has toured Gulf countries that have waged an air campaign against the rebels for more than six weeks, before travelling to Sanaa.
The ceasefire was scheduled to take effect at 11pm local time (20:00 GMT) and is meant to help ease the suffering of civilians in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country.
Ahmed said he would hold talks on restarting the political dialogue which collapsed when President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi escaped from Sanaa in February.
“We are convinced that dialogue is the only way to solve the Yemeni problem,” the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency quoted him as saying.
An Arab coalition launched air strikes on the Houthis and allied renegade army units on March 26 as they closed in on Hadi’s last refuge in the southern port city of Aden and prompted him to flee to Riyadh.
Air strikes have continued targeting positions of the Houthis and their allies around Sanaa.
In another development, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, called for the downing of arm and an immediate resumption of talks between pro-government forces and the Houthis.
“Any ceasefire and any halt on the military operations is supported by Iran to help the victims of this war which are innocent children and women,” he said.
“This ceasefire must turn into a permanent ceasefire and talks to form an inclusive government should be immediately resumed.”
The conflict has killed over 1,400 people – many of them civilians – since March 19, according to the UN, and the country of some 25 million has endured shortages of food, water, medicine and electricity as a result of a naval, air and land blockade.