Yemen’s dominant Houthis agreed on Thursday to join United Nations-backed peace talks in Geneva planned for June 14, a day after their opponents in the exiled government confirmed their attendance, Reuters reported.
A Saudi-led coalition of Arab states has been bombing Houthi forces, the strongest faction in Yemen’s civil war, for over two months in an attempt to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Saudi Arabia.
Around 2,000 people have been killed and half a million displaced by the fighting.
Coalition Arab bombings killed around 58 people across Yemen on Wednesday and Thursday, according to the state news agency Saba, which is controlled by the Houthis.
Forty-eight people, most of them women and children, were killed in air strikes on their houses in the Houthi heartland in the rural far north adjoining Saudi Arabia. The reports could not be independently verified.
The UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has for weeks been shuttling between the Houthi-controlled capital, the exiled government in Riyadh and other regional capitals to garner support for the peace talks.
Daifallah al-Shami, a member of the Houthis’ politburo, told Reuters his movement would take part, and “supports without preconditions the efforts of the United Nations to organize Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue”.
Both sides appeared to have relaxed their conditions for opening the talks.
Hadi had previously insisted that the Houthis obey UN Security Council Resolution 2216, passed in April, which required them to recognize his administration and quit Yemen’s main cities. The Houthis for their part had sought a suspension of the bombing raids.
Yemeni politicians say representatives of long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh will also accept a UN invitation to the talks, but that southern rebel factions, who also control swathes of Yemen, are unlikely to be invited.
The Houthis, who seized the capital Sanaa last September and now control much of the country with the help of forces loyal to Saleh, say they are part of a “revolution” against corruption.
Saudi Arabia and allied Sunni Muslim states fear that the Houthis, who hail from a Shi’ite sect, will spread the influence of the Gulf states’ Shi’ite arch-rival Iran in the Arabian Peninsula.
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