Yemeni president proposes 15-day ceasefire, dozens of civilians die in Saudi-led airstrike

A man and his son walk past a car destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes on the nearby offices of the education ministry's workers union in Yemen's northwestern city of Amran August 19, 2015. © Khaled Abdullah
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has urged a 15-day ceasefire to coincide with the Houthi rebels giving up their positions in all provinces and cities. Meanwhile, up to 65 people have been killed in an air-strike by the Saudi-led coalition, according to Medicins Sans Frontieres.

The strike hit the south-western city of Taiz, which has a predominantly Houthi population, and is considered the nationa's cultural capital. The NGO counts 17 women and 20 children among the dead. Thursday's raid reportedly targeted the Taiz palace and the Sala neighborhood.

"The deaths occurred when the strikes hit civilian and homes in the area," the organization said in a statement. "Those who survived the bombings are searching through the rubble with their bare hands in the hope of finding survivors, as well as the bodies of victims of the attack," it added.

The city has become the latest focus of the fighting for forces loyal to Hadi, exiled in March by Houthi rebels.

As this was taking place, a ceasefire proposal was handed by the president to the UN envoy to Yemen in Saudi Arabia, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. He was due to meet with rebel representatives on Friday to discuss the next steps, according to a UN source speaking to the AP.

As the number of dead has surpassed 4,000 and the country faces a devastating famine, the proposal by the president became the first official acknowledgement that it’s ready to discuss things in a peaceful way.

Under the proposed terms, Houthi rebels and forces allied to exiled President Ali Abdullah Saleh are to return immediately to the UN-brokered peace talks.  The truce is to last for a minimum of 15 days, which could be extended “in conjunction with the withdrawal of the Houthi-Saleh militias from military and civil institutions of the state, all cities and provinces including Sanaa and Saadah.”

Further conditions include UN military observers to monitor the implementation.

Disarmament is another condition, at least concerning heavy and medium weapons – and an end to the use of child soldiers. The proposal promised to deal “firmly” with the warring sides, should the truce be breached.

The proposal also includes a UN arms embargo on rebel leaders and former President Saleh and his son.

READ MORE: Yemen bombed into Syria-grade catastrophe in just 5 months – Red Cross

A Saudi-led campaign of air bombardment has been heavily criticized for causing heavy damage to the country and putting the country’s population at risk, but it appears to be bearing fruit, with the rebels surrendering certain positions to government forces. The key port of Aden has been liberated, as the Houthis progress to the capital Sanaa.

This is not the first attempt at negotiating. In mid-June, a meeting in Geneva descended into chaos when a fistfight broke out between supporters of the warring parties. With the rebels now retreating, it remains to be seen if they are willing to sit down at the negotiating table again.

Moreover, Yemen has been steadily turning into a proxy war, with Saudi Arabia taking the government’s side and accusing Shiite Iran of siding with the Houthis. In a tit-for-tat, Iran blames the Saudis for derailing what little hope for peace there was. The Gulf state, however, always refrained from condemning Sunni terrorist elements such as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) for undermining stability in the region.

The death toll has topped 4,300, while half of Yemen’s population, some 13 million, are going without food, with six million facing imminent starvation, according to the WFP.