Host Kuwait issues ultimatum to Yemeni negotiators

Kuwait, the host for Yemen’s faltering peace talks, has given the warring parties 15 days to reach a deal or leave the country.

Three months of UN-brokered talks in Kuwait have failed to make headway, with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the government supported by a Saudi-led coalition refusing to back down from their positions.

“We have set 15 days to Yemeni parties for settling matters,” Kuwait’s assistant foreign minister, Khaled Al Jarallah, told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel.

 “From the very beginning, [we] have agreed with the parties to conduct negotiations within a timetable. Kuwait has been hosting the talks for a long time and this is enough,” Mr Jarallah said. “Consequently our brothers have to excuse us if we cannot continue hosting.”

The government is calling for implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2216 which requires the rebels and their allies to withdraw from areas they have occupied since 2014, including the capital Sanaa, and to hand over heavy weapons. But the Houthis are demanding the formation of a national unity government before any other steps are taken.

 Following a 15-day hiatus, talks resumed in Kuwait on Saturday with UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed saying negotiations would last for two weeks. He warned the talks may be Yemen’s last chance for peace.

“It’s time for decisive decisions that will prove your true intentions and national responsibilities to Yemenis,” he told both delegations.

Meanwhile, fierce clashes erupted in Yemen’s north-western province of Haja on Thursday as pro-government forces began the battle to liberate Haradh district from the rebels.

 Yemeni ground forces backed by air strikes from the Arab coalition advanced towards the centre of Haradh district, which is about five kilometres from the border with Saudi Arabia.

“The pro-government forces recaptured the customs offices in Haradh this morning, while the Houthis withdrew towards the centre of Haradh,” a journalist in Haja province who visited the area told The National.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the commander of the fifth military region, Brig Gen Ali Hamid Al Qushaibi, was leading the battle, but that the Houthis rebels were sending military reinforcements from other areas of Haja to Haradh.

 “The Houthis are stationed on the hilltop houses … in the surrounding areas of Haradh, and the [pro-government] forces are about four kilometres from the centre of Haradh,” he said.

Recapturing the centre of Haradh will not be easy as the Houthis have planted hundreds of landmines in surrounding areas, according to another journalist in Haja.

“The Houthis [have also] sent more fighters and military vehicles to Haradh front,” he said.

 He expects the liberation of Haradh to take at least a month.

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