RIYADH (Reuters) - The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition battling the Iran-allied Houthis in Yemen has been quoted as saying major fighting in the country is drawing towards a close, one year after the military campaign began.
Fighting on two of the main battlefronts in Yemen, along the border with Saudi Arabia and in the city of Taiz, has calmed this month following mediation by local tribes and there have been secret talks in Saudi Arabia towards finding a resolution.
Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya quoted the spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri, as saying on Thursday that “the major fighting in Yemen is nearing an end ... (and) the next phase is a stage of restoring stability and reconstructing the country”.
Arabiya gave no further details and Asseri could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Saudi-led coalition began its military campaign a year ago with the aim of preventing the Houthi group and forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the country. It also aims to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power in the capital Sanaa.
Asseri and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir have in recent days said that any peace talks can only take place between Hadi and the Houthis, and through the U.N. special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
Asseri announced last April that the coalition’s initial operation had ended, saying it had “neutralized most of the military capabilities of the Houthi militias and their allies that represented a threat to Yemen and neighboring countries”.
However, the fighting then intensified as the coalition added small numbers of ground troops to support Yemeni fighters, backed by an increasingly heavy air campaign.
The coalition retook Yemen’s second city, Aden, from the Houthis and Saleh’s forces in July, the northeastern town of Marib in September and the small northwestern port of Midi this year.
Bitter fighting in Taiz since the autumn calmed somewhat this month and a Houthi siege of the city ended. Near-daily attacks on Saudi border positions have gone on for months, killing hundreds of the kingdom’s soldiers and civilian residents of frontier regions.
More than 6,000 Yemenis, about half of them civilians, have been killed in the fighting and airstrikes over the past year, the United Nations says. Millions more have been displaced.
Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Gareth Jones