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Guns fall silent as Yemen ceasefire begins

UN-brokered peace talks between Yemen's pro-Saudi government and the country's Shiite rebels have begun in Switzerland. Airstrikes have halted and guns have gone quiet as the latest peace initiative gets underway.

A ceasefire took effect Tuesday in war-torn Yemen, as warring sides began mediated peace talks in Switzerland.

Already limited violations of the truce were reported shortly after it began at midday (0900 GMT), with several mortar rounds hitting government troops in the southwestern province of Taez, a Yemeni security official told the AFP news agency.

Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi warned that it "reserves the right to respond in case of any violation."

Hours before the ceasefire took effect,

military jets raided the village of Bani al-Haddad, in the northern Hajjah province

near the border with Saudi Arabia.

Residents told the Reuters news agency at least 15 people lost their lives and more than 20 others were wounded. The rebel-controlled Saba news agency said at least 10 had died.

Since March, the Saudi-led coalition has been waging mainly air strikes - with US logistical and intelligence support - against Iran-backed Houthi fighters.

Peace talks in Switzerland

Now that militants and troops have paused fighting, rival factions

are in Switzerland for Tuesday's peace talks

aimed at ending the violence that's wracked Yemen.

A lull in fighting has been sorely needed in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest nation, where an estimated 80 percent of the population requires immediate humanitarian aid.

Jihadists, including the "Islamic State" (IS) and al-Qaeda organizations, have exploited the violence, gaining ground and carrying out deadly attacks that have killed many civilians.

The rebel Houthi forces have yet to say if they will abide by the ceasefire agreement. Previous UN-sponsored initiatives have failed to narrow differences; past ceasefires were broken.

The warring sides have now agreed to talks despite protracted differences, including one over UN Security Council Resolution 2216 which calls for rebels to withdraw from key cities and surrender their weapons.

Jemen Aden Konvoi Kontrolle Checkpoint

The Yemen government said the proposed ceasefire "comes out of keenness to grab any chance to achieve peace, to reduce the suffering of our people in Yemen and to end bloodshed."

Iran and Saudi's proxy war has devastated Yemen

Also fuelling the urgency behind Tuesday's talks is that the Yemen conflict has become a proxy contest between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, and is a dangerous distraction diverting regional attention from the task of confronting IS on its home turf and ending Syria's long-running civil war.

But serious differences remain. The Houthis, who have long complained of marginalization under the government, seized administrative buildings in Sanaa in September 2014, several months after advancing from their northern stronghold of Saada.

The Shiite Houthis say their move is a revolution against state corruption and against the Sunni militant Islamist al Qaeda.

They later encroached on second city Aden, forcing President Hadi into exile in Saudi Arabia.

In November, Hadi returned to Aden and declared it his provisional capital. And pro-government forces - under cover of Saudi-led air power and heavy weaponry - have recaptured five southern provinces, including Aden, since July.

All this at a devastating cost. The ensuing fighting - with bitter rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia backing opposite factions - has killed more than 5,800 people, about half of them civilians, with more than 27,000 wounded since March.

jar/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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