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Talks on Yemen war start in Saudi, without Huthi rebels
Talks on Yemen's devastating war started in the Saudi capital Wednesday, but without the Huthi rebels, hours after the Riyadh-led coalition announced a ceasefire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The week-long discussions in the Saudi capital are hosted by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and will include United Nations envoy Hans Grundberg and Washington's Tim Lenderking.
The talks come after the Saudi-led military coalition backing the Yemeni government said it would cease military operations during Ramadan, which starts in coming days.
The Iran-backed Huthis -- who rejected joining talks held on the territory of its enemy -- days ago also made a surprise offer of a truce and of a prisoner swap.
The recent flurry of statements brings a glimmer of hope in a brutal war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and left millions on the brink of famine.
The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the fundamentalist Huthis took control of the capital Sanaa the previous year, triggering a proxy war between regional giants Saudi Arabia and Iran.
On Tuesday night, the coalition announced a "cessation of military operations in Yemen beginning at 6:00 am (0300 GMT) Wednesday".
This, it said, "coincides with the launch of Yemeni-Yemeni consultations with the aim of creating the appropriate conditions for their success and creating a positive environment during the holy month of Ramadan for peace making in Yemen".
The rebels had on Saturday called a three-day truce, followed by an announcement that an agreement was reached to free 1,400 of their fighters in exchange for 823 pro-government personnel -- including 16 Saudis and three Sudanese.
The offer was on condition that the Saudis end their blockade and air strikes and remove coalition forces from Yemen.
A Saudi official told AFP that Riyadh was waiting for "serious steps" from Yemen's rebels on the proposed swap before responding to their offer of a ceasefire.
The last prisoner swap in Yemen's war was in October 2020, when 1,056 were released on each side, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Yemen's devastated economy and its complex political situation, as well as military matters and humanitarian aid, are all on the table at the talks in Riyadh, where the GCC is headquartered.