Yemen ceasefire begins as warring sides gather for peace talks

Story highlights

  • Seven-day ceasefire underway in Yemen
  • Previous truces have fallen apart or only been partially observed
  • U.N.: Peace talks are "the only way to end the suffering of the Yemeni people"

(CNN)A ceasefire went into effect Tuesday in conflict-ravaged Yemen as the warring sides prepare to start peace talks.

After months of fighting that has killed thousands of civilians in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation, the United Nations announced last week that negotiations over a possible permanent end to hostilities would take place in Switzerland.
    The conflict in Yemen pits Houthi rebels, who seized control of the capital at the start of the year, against forces loyal to President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries that support him.
    The Saudis and their predominantly Sunni allies consider the Houthis, who hail from northern Yemen, to be proxies for the Shiite government of Iran.
    The Houthis, who follow a different strain of Shiite Islam from Tehran, deny that Iran supplies them with any direct material support.

    Poor track record of ceasefires

    A seven-day ceasefire to coincide with the peace negotiations began at noon local time (4 a.m. ET) Tuesday.
    The truce had originally been expected to start four hours earlier, but the Saudi-led coalition said in a statement reported by Saudi state media late Monday it had been pushed back.
    Earlier Monday, two senior officers in the coalition -- one Saudi, the other from the United Arab Emirates -- were killed in battle near the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, Saudi and Emirati state media reported.
    Previous ceasefires in Yemen have fallen apart or only been partially observed, with the warring parties accusing each other of not respecting the terms.

    Terror and hunger spread amid conflict

    The vicious and protracted conflict in Yemen has allowed the rival terrorist groups al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS to expand their reach amid the security vacuum.
    U.N. agencies have repeatedly warned of an escalating humanitarian crisis as the fighting has deprived millions of people of food supplies.
    The peace talks are "the only way to end the suffering of the Yemeni people," Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, said last week.

    WHO to provide medical supplies

    The World Health Organization said it will try to take advantage of the ceasefire to provide needed medical supplies to Yemen.
    Dr. Ahmed Shadoul, the WHO representative to Yemen, said the organization has been granted "unconditional movement of supplies, personnel, and teams to all parts of the country."
    Nineteen trucks are being loaded from warehouses in Sanaa and Aden and were set to start delivering supplies Tuesday, according to Shadoul. The WHO also expects to ship 150 metric tons of supplies next week to Yemen from Djibouti.
    It's appealing to donors and the private sector for assistance. About 80% of Yemen's population requires humanitarian aid, according to Shadoul.