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Ceasefire takes effect in Yemen; one violation reported in Taiz

Larger wars, partcularly the one in Syria, have overshadowed the carnage in Yemen. But human rights experts say that over the past years, more than 6,000 Yemenis were forced from their homes each day.

A ceasefire that was due to take effect in Yemen at midnight local time (2100 UTC) has largely taken effect, albeit with one reported violation.

Residents and local journalists in the central city of Taiz say rebel forces shelled residential areas and a military base after midnight, local time. The city has been a key battle front between Houthi rebels and various rival forces.

Still, both sides - Saudi-backed government forces and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had agreed to abide by the UN-backed ceasefire in the run-up to its implementation.

General Mohamed Ali al-Makdashi told reporters that "we are going to respect it... unless the Houthi rebels violate it."

The truce comes ahead of UN-backed peace talks

due to begin in Kuwait on April 18. Then, the rebels who control the capital Sanaa are to discuss terms of peace with the government of the internationally recognized President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The hours leading up to today's ceasefire had seen coalition jets bombing neighborhoods in Sanaa, as well as heavy ground fighting in and around Taiz.

Yemeni fighters, loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, patrol a region in the back of a pick-up truck.

Fighters loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni government

Saudi airstrikes condemned

The Saudi-led air campaign has been condemned by human rights groups and the UN for its frequent indiscriminate killing of civilians.

"A real ceasefire could be the first step towards ending this staggering yet forgotten crisis," said Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council. "This last year of escalated violence has meant that each day, around 6,610 people were forced to flee their homes and around 25 civilians are killed or injured."

The conflict has led to warnings of disastrous humanitarian consequences, including food shortages, in what is already one of the Arab world's poorest countries.

Saudi Arabia, fearing that Houthi rebels would give their regional rival Iran a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula, launched their air campaign in March 2015 after rebels moved into Hadi's heartland in southern Yemen.

Since then a loose alliance of Hadi loyalists, Sunni Islamists, jihadists and southern Yemeni separatists, backed by Gulf troops and

air power, has pushed the rebels out of the south.

But they remain entrenched in the north, and the two sides have continued fighting in central Yemen.

April Longley Alley, a Yemen specialist at the International Crisis Group called the ceasefire a step forward, but warned that the path ahead for Yemen remains treacherous.

"For the first time, the groups that can end major military operations, particularly the Saudis and the Houthis, appear to be more willing to do so," she said. But "even if major combat ends, the road to peace in Yemen will be long and difficult and internal conflict is likely to continue for some time."

bik/bw (dpa, AP, AFP)

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