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Heavy casualties in Yemen as Swiss peace talks due to end

Aden: Fierce fighting between government forces and Iran-backed rebels in Yemen produced heavy casualties today amid UN alarm at ceasefire violations ahead of a final day of peace talks in Switzerland.

At least 68 people were killed near the northern town of Haradh, which was overrun by loyalists on Thursday, military and tribal sources said.

The casualties were 28 troops and 40 Shiite Huthi rebels, with another 50 Huthis and 40 loyalists wounded.

The United Nations confirmed that Sunday would be the last day of the talks.

UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will hold a news conference later Sunday in Bern “on the conclusion of the Yemen peace talks held this week in Switzerland”, a statement said.

Meanwhile, loyalist forces were within 40 kilometres of rebel-held capital Sanaa as they pressed their advance against the insurgents, military sources said, in disregard of the UN-brokered ceasefire.

Pro-government forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition were keeping up pressure in Sanaa province’s Nihm district after significant gains in Marib province east of the capital.

The forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, and allied tribes in the area, have laid siege to Nihm’s Fardha military base northeast of the capital.

Despite the proximity, the roughly 40 kilometres separating Nihm from Sanaa is mostly rugged mountainous terrain.

On Friday, loyalists seized Hazm, capital of Jawf province, to the northeast of Sanaa.

By today, they had extended their gains in Jawf, capturing Al-Ghayl and Al-Maton districts, according to sources in the pro-Hadi Popular Resistance militia.

The two areas fell after clashes between advancing forces and rebels and renegade troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, said Ameen al-Ukaymi, a tribal chief of the Popular Resistance.

Government forces are now heading west towards the contiguous rebel strongholds of Amran and Saada provinces, immediately north of the capital, Ukaymi said.

Military sources said coalition-backed pro-Hadi forces reinforced Hazm today, including with tanks and other armoured vehicles.