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Yemen peace talks struggle as air strikes shake truce

CAIRO (Reuters) - Yemen’s Houthi movement accused a Saudi-led coalition of launching air strikes that killed seven people on Sunday, shaking a truce that has largely held through more than two weeks of U.N.-backed peace talks in Kuwait.

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The Iran-allied Houthis and Yemen’s Saudi-backed exiled government are trying to broker a peace through the talks in Kuwait and ease a humanitarian crisis in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

The year-long conflict has drawn in regional powers and killed at least 6,200 people, according to the United Nations.

“The aggressor’s planes bombed various districts in the Nehm district, leading to the death of seven martyrs and wounding three,” the Houthis said in a statement.

Political sources from the Houthi group’s rivals in Yemen’s government say the bombing in the Nehm area east of the capital Sanaa was directed at Houthi forces that were massing in the area in violation of a ceasefire that began on April 10.

A spokesman for the mostly Gulf Arab military coalition did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

As part of the peace talks, representatives of Yemen’s warring sides formed joint political and security committees last week but have made little progress toward a full ceasefire or political transition plan.

In a further setback to talks after Sunday’s events, Houthi representatives refused to attend a meeting with U.N. Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, a statement from the office of Yemen’s prime minister said.

The meetings of the joint committees have as a result been indefinitely postponed, pan-Arab al Arabiya television reported.

A civil war in Yemen escalated when an armed push by the Houthis pushed the government into exile on March 26 last year.

Seeing the Shi’ite Muslim group as a proxy for its Gulf rival Iran, Saudi Arabia mustered an alliance of mostly Gulf Arab countries to push the group back. But the coalition still appears far from forcing the Houthis out of Sanaa.

If confirmed, the air attack would be the deadliest single incident since the ceasefire began.

Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari and Noah Browning; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Louise Heavebs