SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Amid more clashes on Thursday in Yemen, the country's Shiite rebels confirmed their endorsement of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire deal previously announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
However, the backing of the deal by Yemeni rebels, also known as Houthis, was a moot point since Yemen's internationally-recognized government has already dismissed the plan as "unilateral," saying it was not involved in recent talks between Kerry and a Houthi delegation in Oman.
On the ground, government forces expelled rebels from several districts in the western city of Taiz while an international rights group issued a damning report on Thursday, criticizing the Houthis' detentions of political opponents.
Human Rights Watch said the Shiite rebels have carried out hundreds of unlawful detentions and torture since capturing the country's capital, Sanaa. The New York-based group said it has documented two deaths in custody and 11 cases of alleged torture and abuses.
HRW also called upon the Houthis in Sanaa to hold officials accountable and to release the detainees — without forcing them to sign false confessions of cooperating with a Saudi-led coalition that is waging a war to expel the Houthis from territory the rebels captured.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Mideast director at Human Rights Watch, said the war between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition "provides no justification for torture and 'disappearance' of perceived opponents."
Houthis descended from their northern enclave in 2014 to take Sanaa and much of northern Yemen. The rebels forced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the country and seek shelter in Saudi Arabia, which subsequently launched the intervention by mostly Gulf Arab states that has consisted mainly of a punishing air campaign.
The airstrikes, together with the ground fighting, have pushed the already impoverished nation to the brink of famine and displaced nearly three million people. The conflict has killed over 4,000 civilians.
In his announcement, Kerry said the cease-fire was supposed to start on Thursday and lead to the formation of a unity government before the end of the year.
Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the Houthis spokesman, told Al-Masirah TV late on Wednesday that the rebels agreed to the deal.
The peace plane, however, sidelines Hadi, transfers his authorities to a newly appointed vice president, and gives the Houthis a share of power.
Residents in Taiz, one of the worst-hit cities in Yemen's conflict, said fighting escalated in the city's eastern districts. Images were posted on social media showing pro-government fighters on tanks and armored vehicles, flashing the victory sign in front of newly captured positions, including the city's military hospital.
Airstrikes resumed on other Yemen front lines: in the eastern province of Marib, outside of Sanaa, and in the northern Houthi stronghold of Saada.
Dozens were killed and wounded in the fighting but a precise death toll among fighters from the two sides was not available. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.