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Yemen rebels fire Scud in new threat to peace talks
By Jamal al-Jabiri
Sanaa (AFP) June 6, 2015

Saudi says it intercepted Scud missile fired from Yemen
Riyadh (AFP) June 6, 2015 - Saudi Arabia said it intercepted a Scud missile fired on its territory by rebel forces in neighbouring Yemen early Saturday as momentum gathers for peace talks in Switzerland next weekend.

"The Royal Saudi Air Defence Forces intercepted it with a Patriot missile," said a statement from the Saudi-led coalition which has been waging an air war against the rebels since March 26.

Coalition aircraft destroyed the launchpad for the 2:45 am (2345 GMT Friday) attack on the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait, said the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The missile was fired from south of the Huthi rebel bastion of Saada in Yemen's northern mountains, it added.

Destroying the missile capabilities of the Huthis and their allies in the armed forces has been a top priority of the coalition bombing campaign.

The Scud launch came a day after rebel allies killed four Saudi troops in cross-border attacks clouding preparations for UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva on June 14.

UN sets Yemen talks for June 14 in Geneva
United Nations, United States (AFP) June 6, 2015 - The United Nations announced Saturday that peace talks between Yemeni rebels and the government will begin in Geneva on June 14.

The talks had been initially scheduled for May 28 but were postponed after the government demanded that Shiite Huthi rebels first withdraw from seized territory.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon "reiterates his urgent call on all Yemeni parties to engage in these consultations in good faith and without pre-conditions in the interest of all Yemeni people," said a statement from his spokesman.

Yemen has been engulfed in turmoil since the Iranian-backed Huthis seized the capital Sanaa in September and advanced on the southern city of Aden, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee into exile in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition has carried out air strikes on Yemen since March 26 to push back the Huthis and restore Hadi's authority. More than 2,000 people have died since the air campaign began.

In announcing the talks, Ban also repeated his call for a renewed humanitarian pause in fighting following last month's truce.

"Such assistance is of paramount and pressing importance because the suffering of the Yemeni population, as a result of the continued conflict is increasing dramatically," the secretary-general said.

The talks brokered by UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed would be aimed at securing a ceasefire, agreeing on a withdrawal plan for the Huthis and stepping up deliveries of humanitarian aid.

The Security Council this week heard a report from new UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien, who described Yemen's humanitarian crisis as "catastrophic," with 20 million civilians in need of aid -- 80 percent of the population.

The Huthis fired a Scud missile at Saudi territory Saturday, a day after their rebel allies killed four Saudi soldiers in cross-border attacks.

Yemeni rebels flexed their muscles Saturday by firing a Scud missile at Saudi Arabia just days before they are to sit down with the exiled, Saudi-backed regime for peace talks in Switzerland.

Saudi Arabia said it intercepted the missile fired at its territory by the Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen.

The launch came a day after rebel allies killed four Saudi soldiers in cross-border attacks clouding preparations for UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva on June 14.

"The Royal Saudi Air Defence Forces intercepted it with two Patriot missiles," said the Saudi-led coalition, which has been waging an air war against the rebels since March 26.

Coalition aircraft destroyed the launcher used in the 2:45 am (2345 GMT Friday) attack on the southwestern city of Khamis Mushait, said the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The missile was fired from south of the Huthi rebel bastion of Saada in Yemen's northern mountains, it added.

A pro-Huthi military spokesman told Yemen's rebel-controlled Saba news agency the target was the Prince Khaled air base in Khamis Mushait.

There has been cross-border artillery and rocket fire into Saudi Arabia but virtually no missile attacks since the air war began.

The coalition has made destroying the missile capabilities of the Huthis and their allies a top priority of its bombing campaign.

But its spokesman Ahmed al-Assiri told Al-Arabiya television the rebels hid in caves some of the 300 missiles they were thought to have had prior to the campaign.

Saudi forces had "thwarted more than 300 rebel attempts to cross the border," he added, calling it an act of "desperation".

The bombing campaign was launched in support of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Manour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh as the Huthis advanced on his southern stronghold of Aden.

The coalition's latest raids targeted rebel military sites and positions in northern, central and southern Yemen, including Sanaa where weapons storage depots were struck on hills overlooking the capital.

On Saturday they carried out strikes in Amran, Hajjah, and Saada as well as Lahj, where the rebel-held air base of Al-Anad was bombed.

- Border attacks -

The Huthis overran Sanaa in September, before going on to seize much of the country.

The interception of the Scud came after forces loyal to Saleh attacked several locations on the Saudi border Friday.

The coalition Saturday reported the second major ground attack of the war against Saudi territory.

"The Saudi armed forces today were able to repel an attack from the Yemeni side targeting several locations in Jazan and Najran," said a coalition statement carried by SPA, referring to two Saudi border districts.

The attack, supported by Huthis, was coordinated by elements of the Republican Guard loyal to Saleh and sparked an hours-long battle in which four Saudis lost their lives, the coalition said, adding that "dozens from the enemy were killed".

In Taez, seven civilians were killed when the Shiite militia fired on a residential area, while clashes in Dhaleh killed 12 rebels, officials said.

Fighting overnight on the northern and western entrances to Aden left dead seven people, including four civilians, and wounded 71, they said.

Tensions have escalated between Riyadh and regional rival Iran because of the months-long fighting in Yemen, while rights groups have expressed concerns about the extent of civilian casualties.

The violence comes only hours after the Huthis confirmed they would attend talks in Geneva aimed at ending weeks of war that has cost more than 2,000 lives.

The United Nations on Saturday confirmed the peace talks would begin in Geneva on June 14.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon reiterated "his urgent call on all Yemeni parties to engage in these consultations in good faith and without pre-conditions in the interest of all Yemeni people," said a statement from his spokesman.

The meeting would be the first significant effort to stop the fighting, which has led to what the United Nations called a catastrophic humanitarian situation.

Yemen's government exiled in Riyadh also said it would attend.

In line with UN Security Council Resolution 2216, Hadi's government had refused to attend unless the rebels pulled back from at least some of the territory they have seized.

Spain defence minister backs international action in Libya
Madrid (AFP) June 6, 2015 - An international military intervention is needed to end unrest in Libya, where the Islamic State group is gaining a foothold, Spanish Defence Minister Pedro Morenes said in an interview published Saturday.

"We went to Afghanistan to stop all of that from coming here, we are in Iraq, Mali or Somalia with the same objective. And now we have it nearby. Something needs to be done," he told the top-selling Spanish daily El Pais when asked if there would be a military intervention in Libya.

"I asked (EU foreign policy chief Federica) Mogherini in Singapore (last weekend) and she said: 'It seems unbelievable that there are still nations that object (to an intervention). Think of Syria. For four years we have watched them massacre each other while the (UN Security Council) is blocked by vetoes. This is the world we live in'."

Morenes reiterated Spain's support for an Italian proposal calling on the US-led coalition that is fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq to expand its operations into Libya.

"There is not a coalition to fight against Daesh in Iraq or in Syria, there is a coalition to fight against Daesh full stop," he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

"If the caliphate extends to Libya, the coalition will have to take action," he added.

Libya descended into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed Moamer Kadhafi, with battle-hardened and heavily armed former rebels carving out their own fiefdoms across the country.

The north African country has two rival parliaments and governments, with Tripoli controlled by Libyan Dawn forces who seized the capital last year, forcing the internationally-recognised government to move to Tobruk, in the east of the country.

The chaos has turned Libya into a staging post for migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean to Europe, and there is mounting alarm over gains made by extremists like the Islamic State.

The group released a video in April showing masked fighters beheading dozens of Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Last month, it released another video showing Libyan fighters pledging support for Islamic State and staging a series of attacks and summary executions in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Western powers including Spain, which this year holds a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, have insisted on a political solution to the unrest in Libya but have not definitively ruled out another intervention.

Morenes suggested however that any action in the country would need to have the approval of the Libyan government.

"Libya is a sovereign state, regardless of who is in charge there," he said when asked if military force could be used in Libya to stop human trafficking.

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