GENEVA/DUBAI, Dec 15 (Reuters) – A ceasefire took effect in Yemen on Tuesday as parties to the civil war started United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Switzerland in a new push to end months of fighting that have killed nearly 6,000 people, a U.N. spokesman said.
Fighting raged across Yemen ahead of the truce which began at 1200 local time (0900 GMT), with residents in the northern part of the country saying 15 civilians were killed in air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition.
The alliance said its forces captured a main Red Sea island on Tuesday, giving the coalition control over the strait of Bab al-Mandab.
Army commanders said the truce appeared to be largely holding, though Saudi state TV reported some 20 violations by the Iran-allied Houthis in the first hour of the ceasefire.
“U.N. Secretary-General Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announces today the start of cessation of hostilities in Yemen which he considers an initial first step towards building a lasting peace in the country,” U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told a news briefing in Geneva.
Ahmed said in a statement released in Geneva that Yemen‘s peace talks were underway and urged the parties to ensure full compliance with the ceasefire.
An earlier round of U.N.-backed indirect talks in Geneva in June ended without an agreement, with both sides blaming each other for their collapse.
Unlike the previous round, the current session opened with an agenda being agreed and with senior delegates meeting face-to-face away from television cameras.
The main task for the negotiations will be agreeing on how to implement a U.N. Security Council Resolution in April that called on the Houthis to quit the capital, Sanaa, and other cities they seized in late 2014 and early 2015.
Residents said war planes launched two raids on the village of Bani al-Haddad, in northern Hajjah province on the border with Saudi Arabia, killing 13 people and wounding 20 others.
Two more residents died while medics were trying to evacuate them, they said.
A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition could not immediately be reached for comment but the alliance says it does not target civilians.
In southwestern Yemen, coalition forces captured the Red Sea island of Zuqur, part of the Hanish Archipelago that controls the main sea route near the strait of Bab al-Mandab, Saudi state television reported quoting the coalition spokesman.
The island contains the highest mountain in the area, which gives the coalition control over the waterway.
Residents also reported air strikes in Dhamar and Hodeida provinces and ground clashes in the city of Taiz, a focal point of fighting between the Houthis and Hadi supporters, as well as in Marib, east of the capital Sanaa.
In northern Yemen, the coalition launched a military campaign in late March to stop the Houthis, whom they see as a proxy for their Iran arch-foe, from taking complete control of Yemen after seizing much of the north last year. The Houthis accuse the coalition of launching a war of aggression.
The campaign has brought embattled Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi a little closer to running a united country again. A stalemate in the fighting and the rise of Islamic State in Yemen may convince the warring sides that a peace accord is the only way to end the conflict.