Abu Dhabi // US secretary of state John Kerry said on Tuesday that Houthi rebels are ready to observe a ceasefire this week but the Yemeni government swiftly dismissed the plan.
The Iran-backed Houthis had agreed to a “cessation of hostilities beginning on November 17, provided the other party implements the same commitment,” Mr Kerry said during a visit to the UAE.
He was speaking in Abu Dhabi a day after meeting Houthi negotiators in Oman for talks aimed at finding a political settlement for the war in Yemen.
Mr Kerry said the UAE and Saudi Arabia “have both agreed to try to move forwards with this. They believe it makes sense”.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the leading members of the Arab coalition that has been battling the rebels in Yemen in a bid to restore the legitimacy of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, and his internationally-recognised government.
But Yemen’s foreign minister said he was not aware of any new peace initiative.
“The government of Yemen is not aware of the statements made by Mr Kerry and does not consider itself committed to them,” said Abdel Malek Al Mekhlafi.
He said Mr Kerry’s comments “are a bid to derail peace efforts and a bid to reach an agreements with the Houthis without the government.”.
The Arab coalition launched a military operation in March 2015, to halt the Houthi military offensive and save Mr Hadi’s government.
A ceasefire that began in April lasted until the end of August when UN-sponsored peace talks in Kuwait ended in disagreement.
Mr Kerry also said the parties “have agreed to work towards the establishing a new national unity government in a safe and secure Sanaa … as a goal towards the end of the year”.
Ahead of his announcement, fighting raged around the city of Taez as pro-government forces advanced on the front to the north of the city on Tuesday morning.
Nael Al Adimi, a leader of the popular resistance in Taez city said troops fighting to support Mr Hadi evacuated several houses in Noqtat Al Sharaf neighbourhood north of the city where Houthi snipers were stationed.
“The forces liberated Salah Al Deenand and Oqbah Schools in Sala, which were barracks of the Houthis, and the advance is still ongoing in the northern front,” Mr Al Adimi said.
About 20 of the Iran-backed Houthis rebels, including a field commander and three fighters of the pro-Hadi popular resistance were killed and others were injured.
Pro-government forces broke the rebel’s siege on Taez city in August, opening the main road from to Aden province in the south. If the forces can break the siege from the northern direction, they would also have control of the road towards the capital Sanaa, which the Houthis seized in 2014, sparking the conflict.
Earlier, Saudi air defence forces intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile fired from Yemen towards the kingdom, the coalition said.
The missile was fired towards the Najran region but was shot down, said.
Coalition forces responded by targeting the source of the fire inside Yemen, said a coalition statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Last month, the rebels launched one of their longest-range strikes against Saudi Arabia, firing a ballistic missile that was brought down near the holy city of Mecca, an attack that was roundly condemned in the Muslim world.
The Yemen conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than three million and sparked a vast humanitarian crisis.
*With reporting from Mohammed Al Qalisi in Aden, Agence France-Presse and Reuters