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Saudi-led truce in Yemen expires amid fears of coronavirus disaster

A heavy duty machine conduct an operation after coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia organized an airstrike over a prison, in which Houthi Ansarullah movement members withhold its prisoners, in Dhamar, Yemen on 1 September, 2019 [Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency]

A two-week ceasefire in Yemen announced by a Saudi-led military coalition expired on Thursday without leading to a permanent truce, raising fears that the country's war will grind on and shatter its already weakened ability to combat coronavirus, Reuters reports.

The latest Yemen peace push follows UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's call last month for a global ceasefire so the world can focus on fighting COVID-19, which aids groups worry could cause a catastrophe in Yemen after five years of war.

But the Iran-aligned Houthi group battling the coalition did not accept the coalition's ceasefire announcement, and violence has continued in several provinces including Marib, the last stronghold of the Saudi-backed government.

Two diplomats and two other sources familiar with the matter had expected an extension of the ceasefire for at least another two weeks, if not until the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, expected to begin this week.

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But since the Houthis continued their attacks, the coalition did not extend it, they said. The Western-backed alliance has responded to recent Houthi advances with air strikes.

"It was rather a symbolic ceasefire than an actual one, the coalition does not see the point of extending it," one of the sources close to the discussions told Reuters.

A spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition did not respond to a Reuters' request for comment.

"The Houthis could conduct an assault on Marib city very soon if there is no agreement, this would be another disastrous episode in the ground war after the battles for (the Red Sea port of) Hodeidah in 2018," said a Saudi-based Western diplomat.

The Saudi-backed government was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014 by the Houthi movement, which now holds most big urban centres.

During the past two weeks, the United Nations has sought to hold virtual talks among the parties to cement a truce, coordinate a coronavirus response and agree confidence-building measures to restart peace talks.

The pressing need is to end a ruinous war that has left millions vulnerable to disease. While Yemen has reported only one laboratory-confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, aid organisations fear a "catastrophic" outbreak should the virus spread among an acutely malnourished population, due to the country's inadequate testing capabilities.

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Middle EastNewsSaudi ArabiaYemen
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