Yemen president says ready for 72-hour truce

Aden (AFP) - Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire that could be extended, the war-torn country's foreign minister said Monday, a day after international calls for a truce.

The announcement comes after the United States, Britain and the UN peace envoy to Yemen on Sunday urged the warring parties in the country's civil war to declare a ceasefire they said could start within days.

"The President agreed to a 72 hrs ceasefire to be extended if the other party adheres to it", activates a truce observing committee and ends the siege of third-city Taez, Abdulmalek al-Mekhlafi wrote on Twitter.

Al-Arabiya news channel meanwhile cited Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir as saying that the kingdom is willing to see a ceasefire take effect in Yemen without providing details.

Saudi Arabia's impoverished neighbour has been rocked by a deadly war since pro-Iran rebels overran the capital Sanaa in September 2014.

The conflict, however, escalated after an Arab coalition, led by Riyadh, launched a bombing campaign against the Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies in March 2015.

On Sunday, UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said: "We are here to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, which will be declared in the next few hours."

The envoy said he had been in contact with the Huthi militia's lead negotiator and with Hadi's government.

But he warned that he hoped for "clearer plans" for a ceasefire in coming days.

"We reiterate our support for the efforts of UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed," Mekhlafi tweeted, adding that his government will deal "positively" with international calls for peace.

The conflict in Yemen has killed almost 6,900 people, wounded more than 35,000 and displaced at least three million since March last year, according to the United Nations.

- New peace plan -

On Sunday US Secretary of State John Kerry met in London with the UN envoy and his opposite numbers from Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss the Yemen conflict.

"This is the time to implement a ceasefire unconditionally and then move to the negotiating table," US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters after the talks.

Kerry said that he agreed with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the UN envoy that the ceasefire should begin "as rapidly as possible, meaning Monday, Tuesday".

Previous attempts to enforce a ceasefire in the country have so far failed with the war intensifying after a round of peace talks in Kuwait ended in August without achieving breakthrough.

The Saudi-led coalition has stepped up its air raids following the breakdown of talks and cross-border attacks from Yemen have also intensified.

A ceasefire that was announced in conjunction with the start of the Kuwait talks was hardly observed on ground, with both sides trading blame for violating the truce.

Earlier this month, the UN envoy had said that a 72-hour ceasefire was expected soon adding that he was hoping to draft a new peace plan for Yemen.

The coalition has carried out hundreds of air strikes and provided ground troops to support Hadi's forces.

But it has failed to dislodge the Huthi rebels, who are allied with forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, from key areas including the capital Sanaa.

The rebels still control large parts of the north, their historic stronghold areas, and other regions of western and central Yemen.

Taez, the country's third city, is almost completely surrounded by the Huthis and their allies and loyalist forces have for months tried to break the rebel grip on the southwestern city.

Government forces have recaptured the south and east but failed to make any significant advances.

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