Saudi officials say the coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen will begin a ceasefire on Thursday.

The officials told journalists that the decision was in response to UN calls to halt hostilities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

They said the ceasefire will be for two weeks, during which the coalition will support UN efforts to bring the rival parties to the table for talks.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said earlier this month that warring parties in 11 countries had responded positively to his appeal for a global ceasefire to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement comes as heavy fighting in Yemen between pro-government forces and the Houthis killed more than 270 people in the past 10 days, according to government officials and tribal leaders.

The officials said forces of the internationally recognised government dealt a heavy blow to the Houthis in the provinces of Marib, Jawf and Bayda.

The US-backed, Saudi-led coalition backing the government of President Abed Rabou Mansour Hadi carried out more than 370 air strikes against the Houthis in less than two weeks, the officials said.

Abdu Abdullah Magli, spokesman for the Yemeni Armed Forces, said they wrested control of the strategic Hilan mountains, west of the oil-rich province of Marib about 70 miles east of the Houthi-controlled capital, Sanaa.

Shiite Houthi tribesmen
Shiite Houthi tribesmen (AP/Hani Mohammed)

He said the government forces reclaimed the Labnat military camp in Jawf province and were progressing towards the strategic northern city of Hazm, the provincial capital of Jawf.

The Houthis, who took Hazm last month, dismissed the government claims, saying they still control the camp.

Yahia Sarea, a spokesman for the Houthi forces, said they fired a ballistic missile targeting government forces in southern Abyan province.

The violence flared up late last month after a foiled rebel drone and missile attack targeting the Saudi capital. Saudi Arabia’s Air Defence Forces said they intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile over Riyadh. Another missile was also intercepted and destroyed over the southern Saudi city of Jizan, which borders Yemen, they said.

The missile attack prompted the coalition to launch an intensive air campaign on rebel-held Sanaa and other areas, in what they say was aimed at “destroying legitimate military targets” held by the Houthis.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, has been ravaged by civil war since 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthis took control of the country’s north, including the capital Sanaa.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened against the Houthis the following year. Despite relentless Saudi air strikes and a blockade of Yemen, the war has reached stalemate.

The conflict has killed over 10,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.