SANAA, Yemen—Fierce fighting and airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition pounded northern Yemen on Saturday, as the two main parties in the country’s conflict continued to violate a ceasefire agreement and undermine already tenuous peace talks in Switzerland.
The clashes in Hajjah Province near the Saudi border between rebel-allied units and pro-government Yemeni forces have killed more than 75 over the past three days, Yemeni security officials and witnesses said. The dead included more than 40 rebels and 35 government troops, with 50 wounded on the rebel side and dozens wounded on the government side.
Most were killed by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition that dominates the skies in Yemen, said the witnesses and security officials, who remain neutral in the conflict that has splintered Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. Dozens of tanks and armored vehicles were destroyed.
The government troops advanced across the border from Saudi territory after training there for months, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Yemen’s fighting pits the internationally recognized government backed by a Saudi-led, U.S.-supported coalition against the rebels, known as Houthis, who are allied with a former president and backed by Iran. Local affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have exploited the chaos to grab land and exercise influence.
According to U.N. figures, the war in Yemen has killed at least 5,884 people since March, when fighting escalated after the Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes targeting the rebels.
Fighting in Yemen has continued despite a weeklong cease-fire agreement that went into effect on Tuesday. By Wednesday, at least 42 people had been killed in clashes along several front lines, underscoring the difficulties of achieving progress at the U.N.-brokered peace talks in the Swiss village of Macolin.
On Friday, the Yemeni rebel delegation suspended meetings with the internationally recognized government in protest over its cease-fire violations. The Houthis said they would not resume talks unless the U.N. condemned breaches by government forces, delegates at the talks told AP.
A member of the Houthi delegation said U.N. special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had “promised to condemn the government and then he did not.”
A government delegate said: “They are using the cease-fire as an excuse although they were the first to break it.” Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The U.N. has urged all factions in the conflict to end the violence and is pressing to keep the talks going.
It was unclear to what extent the renewed combat would affect the discussions. The Houthis had already agreed to permit humanitarian aid deliveries into the besieged city of Taiz as well as the cities of Saada and also Hajjah, the capital of the province where the fresh fighting was taking place.
Earlier Saturday, the rebels agreed to release five high-profile prisoners, including the president’s brother and the defense minister, as a gesture of good will, two participants at the talks said.
Defense Minister Mahmoud Subaihi and Gen. Nasser Mansour Hadi, brother of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, would be handed over to the Red Cross with the other three prisoners later in the day, they said. There was no news of their release yet late Saturday night.
The participants, one from the Houthi rebel delegation and the other from Yemen’s internationally recognized government, spoke anonymously as they were not authorized to brief reporters.