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Yemenis and Houthis optimistic on eve of peace talks in Kuwait

Two previous attempts at peace talks failed, but now the two main antagonists appear to be more war-weary. Nevertheless, potential deal-breakers include a former president - as well as "Islamic State" and al Qaeda.

At least five

Yemeni security officials were killed in a pair of car bombings

just as the warring sides in Yemen's year-long civil war appeared conciliatory.

The verbal overtures on the eve of peace talks on Monday in Kuwait suggest

the two main antagonists may be suffering from battle fatigue

in a conflict that has claimed more than 6,200 lives and caused one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Watch video 01:25

Ceasefire comes into effect in Yemen

A peace agreement could also help ease tensions between two Middle Eastern regional powers - Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Houthi rebels, widely believed to be backed by Shia Iran, overran the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, forcing President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi from power. He sought refuge with his Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia and has subsequently tried to run a provisional government from the city of Aden.

His foreign minister, Abdel Malek al-Mekhlafi, called the upcoming peace talks an opportunity to end the bloodshed.

"We are ready for a political transition which excludes no one ... The world now looks to the Kuwait consultations as a landmark of peace for Yemenis, and we will give everything we can to alleviate the suffering of the people," al-Mekhlafi said from Aden.

Houthis also open for peace

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, spokesman for the Houthi rebels who control Sanaa, said his side was also open to the peace process.

"There should be a consensus authority during a definite transitional phase to decide every political dispute," he said. "Iran does not have any role in our sovereign decisions and we are not tools in anyone's hands."

Six months after the Houthis overran Sanaa, Saudi Arabia led a Sunni coalition that joined the war, launching punishing and at times indiscriminate missile attacks.

Human rights campaigners say these strikes are responsible for thousands of civilian deaths.

The Houthis belong to a Shia sect that ruled a thousand-year-old kingdom in northern Yemen until 1962. The Houthis claimed they are leading a revolution against corruption. After ousting then-President Hadi from power in September 2014, the Houthis formed an alliance with his predecessor.

Ali Abdullah Saleh was Yemen's autocratic president for 33 years until he was ousted by "Arab Spring" protests in 2012. It's unclear what his political goals and ambitions are, but they could complicate peace talks.

Likewise Muslim militants from the Islamic State and al Qaeda have further destabilized the country.

Still, Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, is optimistic about the peace process.

"This represents the best opportunity to end the war since it started," he said. "Real progress has been made."

bk/bk (Reuters, AFP)

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