ADEN (Reuters) - A truce aimed at ending more than a year of war in Yemen appeared to be largely holding on Monday, although residents said fighting was still going on in parts of the country.
The U.N.-brokered ceasefire is meant to precede peace talks in a country that has become the face of rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It seemed to be holding up despite “pockets of violence”, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.
Artillery fire, gun battles and air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition were reported across Yemen, but a spokesman for the Iranian-allied Houthi movement said on Monday the group would respect the cessation of hostilities.
“We express our condemnation of air strikes and the military advances made in some fronts since this morning,” Mohammed Abdel-Salam said in a statement on his Facebook page.
The Houthis said they had set up committees in six provinces to prevent escalation and coordinate aid efforts with the United Nations.
Earlier on Monday, the Yemeni government and its Houthi adversaries blamed each other for violence in the city of Taiz. Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV accused the Houthis of launching a ballistic missile, in violation of the truce.
The Soviet-era Tochka missile was fired into the battle-scarred northern desert province of al-Jawf but was intercepted in mid-air, the network reported.
Residents reported air attacks in support of government forces in the provinces of Taiz, al-Jawf and on the outskirts of Sanaa, the capital.
“There’s continuous shelling in the downtown and the suburbs, and we can hear explosions across the city,” said Jameel Abdo Ahmed, a civil servant in the battered frontline city of Taiz. Another resident said: “Nothing’s changed.”
A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports of continued air strikes.
U.N.-sponsored peace talks are set to begin on April 18 in Kuwait, bringing together the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government. The Houthis forced the government out of the Sanaa in 2014, in what they called a revolution against corruption.
Saudi Arabia and its allies from the Sunni Muslim Gulf states began a military campaign in March last year to prevent the Houthis and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the whole country.
The Saudi-led coalition expelled enemy fighters from the southern port city of Aden in July, but Houthi forces continue to hold the capital and tracts of the country, with the help of Saleh loyalists. More than 6,200 Yemenis have been killed in the war.
The Saudis fear the Houthis, who belong to a Shi‘ite sect, will spread the influence of Iran, their Shi‘ite rival, in the Arabian Peninsula.
The United Nations special envoy for Yemen said a committee of military representatives from both sides would work to make the truce hold.
“Now is the time to step back from the brink,” Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said.
The truce terms included commitments for unhindered access for relief aid. Nearly half of Yemen’s 22 provinces are on the verge of famine, the U.N. World Food Programme has said.
The foreign minister in the Saudi-backed government, Abdel Malek al-Mekhlafi, told al-Arabiya TV: “This truce is in its early stages, violations may occur in the beginning, but we hope the next few hours will see more discipline towards the ceasefire.”
Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Cairo and Sylvia Westall in Dubai; Writing by Noah Browning and Tom Finn; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Larry King