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Yemen airstrikes extend in scope after Houthis arrive for Geneva talks

As peace talks enter their second day in Geneva, Saudi-led air strikes have hit several military targets throughout Yemen. Conflict between Sunni Muslims and Iran-allied Houthis has been ongoing for almost three months.

The bombings early on Wednesday hit several rebel army bases in the capital, Sanaa, and Houthi militia targets in Yemen's central desert.

For the first time, the strikes extended into the western and the mountainous province of Mahweet - one of the last provinces in Yemen not to be bombed since the Arab campaign began on March 26.

Medical officials also said on Wednesday that 31 people had been killed in an airstrike in the northern outskirts of the southern port of Aden. Among the victims were several families who were fleeing north in a convoy of vehicles.

Hopes for shuttle diplomacy

The latest airstrikes came just hours after a delegation of Houthi rebels arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday. The United Nations (UN) is trying to broker a humanitarian truce between the rebels and the exiled government. On opening the talks earlier this week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

called for a truce to coincide with the Muslim holy month

of Ramadan.

In a televised speech on Tuesday, Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, held out hope for a resolution but accused his Yemeni opponents of seeking to advance Saudi Arabia's agenda.

"There is nothing hindering a political solution in the country; the solution is available, but they (Saudis) are the ones who ruin it with their aggression," he said.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, blamed the Houthis, however, for the

lack of progress

.

"Houthis and their allies resorted to violence ... thus the ceasefire and truce is in their hands," al-Jubeir told reporters at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic States in the kingdom, according to the Kuwait state news agency KUNA.

Deadly conflict

Fighting in Yemen escalated in March when a Saudi-led alliance supporting Yemen's exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi began airstrikes on the Houthis and their Yemen army allies aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthis had taken over vast parts of the country.

According to UN figures, more than 2,900 people have been killed in fighting since March 19, with about half of those civilians.

ksb/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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