GENEVA: Warring Yemeni powers signaled mutual hostility at the start of talks Tuesday aimed at ending a war that has caused a humanitarian disaster, drawn in regional rivals and threatened the Arabian peninsula country with permanent division.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened the Geneva discussions Monday calling for a humanitarian cease-fire with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
But with neither side prepared to sit in the same room on the first working day of discussions Tuesday, there was little sign of that happening. U.N. envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed began shuttling between rival delegations in "proximity talks."
As the talks began, a Yemeni news agency reported a raid on a school in central Yemen killed four women and a child.
"It's been 80 days of chaos, death and destruction in Yemen," Robert Mardini, the regional director of the International Committee of the Red Cross for the Near and Middle East told a briefing in Geneva.
"Ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, there is really little hope for the people of Yemen."
Yemen descended deeper into violence in March when a Saudi-led Arab alliance began airstrikes on the Iranian-backed Houthi movement and allied army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Riyadh wanted to stop months of territorial gains by the Houthis, who seized the capital in September and pushed aside President Abed Rabbou Masour Hadi, and revive a Gulf-backed political process aimed at creating a representative government.
The Houthis say they are battling a corrupt government and Islamist militants, and deny any military or economic links to Iran, which also says it gives them only diplomatic support.
The United Nations says that more than 2,600 people have been killed in the violence since March 19.
Both sides have set low expectation from talks expected to convene for two to three days and end before the weekend.
"We came from our country with one core strategic issue - to stop this brutal aggression on our country and lift the comprehensive siege that today is killing children and old people and women," said Aref al Zouka, head of Saleh's General People's Congress.
"We believe that these consultations, these comprehensive consultations will lead to an understanding of the foundations for the start of the political dialogue."
Hadi said his government's delegation went to Geneva in response to a U.N. invitation, but insisted the aim must focus on implementing a Security Council resolution calling on the Houthis to quit Yemeni cities seized since last year.
"We will not accept under any condition to go back to square one which talks about resuming previous dialogue under the threat of violence," Hadi told an Organization of the Islamic Cooperation meeting in Saudi Arabia.
The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency said four women and one child from the same family were killed by a Saudi-led air strike on a girls school in the central city of Taiz. Reuters was unable immediately to independently confirm the report.
International relief agencies say the violence has displaced hundreds of thousands and left many without food, water or medicine.
U.N. Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville said the total number of civilians killed since March 26 was at least 1,412, including 210 women with a further 3,423 injured.