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Saudi intercepts missile from Yemen but truce holds

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia intercepted a ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Monday, but a Saudi-led military coalition said it would maintain a shaky truce despite the “serious escalation” by the Houthi militia and its allies, state news agency SPA said.

Saudi army artillery fire shells towards Houthi movement positions at the Saudi border with Yemen April 15, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

The Iran-allied Houthis and Yemen’s Saudi-backed exile government are trying to reach a peace agreement in talks in Kuwait aimed at ending the year-long war and easing a humanitarian crisis in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen a year ago mainly with air strikes in support of the Yemeni government. A tentative U.N-backed ceasefire has been in place since last month to give the peace talks in Kuwait a chance at progress. Both sides have regularly accused each other of violations.

Yemen’s government wants the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over weapons and withdraw from cities captured last year.

Saudi air defense forces destroyed the missile without it causing any damage, the coalition said, according to SPA. It gave no further details about the missile or the target. Similar incidents have occurred periodically over the past months.

“The coalition announces that it will continue to maintain the cessation of hostilities,” it said, reiterating that it retained the right to respond as appropriate.

Brigadier General Sharaf Luqman, a spokesman for Yemeni forces fighting alongside the Houthis, said the missile was aimed at a military base in Khamees Mushait in southwest Saudi Arabia, a location previously targeted.

The missile was in response to coalition air strikes in Yemen since the start of the truce that have killed and wounded dozens, Luqman said in comments to Saba, the Houthi-run news agency.

He said that despite this the forces were committed to the truce but would respond if there were further raids.

The Saudi-led coalition ended a previous ceasefire in January saying that its enemies had fired missiles targeting its border posts and shelled civilian areas where the Houthis were fighting pro-Saudi Yemeni forces

On Monday, representatives of the Yemeni government and Houthis met in Kuwait and a United Nations special envoy urged them to make more progress to end a war which has killed more than 6,200 people and displaced some 2.5 million others.

“There is no doubt that we are at a true crossroads. We are either moving towards peace or going back to square one,” Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the special envoy, said in a statement.

“What I heard from both delegations is promising, but we shouldn’t forget that the challenges are enormous and the gap between them is large,” he said.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall in Dubai and Ali Abdelati and Mostafa Hashem in Cairo,; Editing by Alison Williams and Tom Brown