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Yemeni forces seize northern Houthi towns as peace talks near collapse

Houthi sources tell MEE they consider ceasefire over and snub fourth day of talks, after lightning advances by Saudi-backed forces
Pro-Hadi forces have taken over two towns in northern Yemen (AFP)

Biel, Switzerland - Houthi rebel leaders have failed to attend a fourth day of peace talks, saying they considered Yemen's ceasefire over after troops allied with the Yemen government staged a lightning attack to seize a northwestern Houthi-controlled town.

The AFP news agency reported on Friday that troops, trained and equipped in Saudi Arabia, had seized the town of Hazm, the capital of the northern Yemeni province of Jawf, about 100km from the Saudi border. 

Yemeni government forces also said they had captured Harad, about 15km from the Saudi border late on Thursday. One official said about 1,000 soldiers and aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition were involved in the attack, which killed dozens of Houthi fighters. 

The attacks placed huge pressure on peace negotiations in Biel, Switzerland, between the Houthi and their allies, the General People's Congress, and the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and its backers in a Saudi-led coalition.  

Houthi and GNC delegates told Middle East Eye that the ceasefire in Yemen was considered defunct, and failed to attend both morning and afternoon sessions. However, there has been no official statement that they had pulled out entirely. 

Fighting has continued to rage in much of Yemen, despite a ceasefire officially in place since Tuesday morning.

The reported seizure of Harad leaves pro-government forces just a few kilometres from the Red Sea port of Midi, which has been under Houthi control since 2010, military sources said.

Military sources in Yemen told MEE that pro-government troops were advancing "very quickly". 

A Saudi source, from the border town of Najran, told MEE that the Houthis had also stepped up bombardment overnight, with fierce fighting taking place. 

According to the source, Houthis rockets struck the ground east of the Saudi town of Najran but caused no casualties, while the others were intercepted by Saudi forces near the city of Marib inside Yemen. 

In a statement today, the Saudi military warned it would not remain committed to a ceasefire amid current threats to its territories and vowed to step up military strikes against the Houthi militias and their supporters.

The north has experienced clashes throughout the week, with MEE reporting intense fighting in the Hajjah province, home to Harad, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Additional reporting by Saeed al-Batati.

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