An Islamic State affiliate carried out a series of attacks in Yemen’s southern port city of Mukalla on Monday, killing at least 43 people and wounding several others, officials said.
The attacks came as the government and Shiite Houthi rebels planned to suspend talks on ending Yemen’s larger conflict after failing to reach a breakthrough in two months of negotiations held in Kuwait.
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The officials said two suicide bombers and other militants carried out at least seven simultaneous attacks in Mukalla targeting intelligence offices, army barracks and checkpoints. In one of the attacks, a bomb was concealed in a box of food brought to soldiers at a checkpoint to break their dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast. In another, a group of militants stormed a police station, officials said.
Witnesses said gunfire echoed across the city, followed by ambulance sirens. The IS affiliate said in an online statement that it launched four suicide bombings against counterterrorism forces.
Officials said another 10 people were wounded in the attacks.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
An al-Qaida affiliate seized Mukalla and held it for a year before being driven out in April by a Saudi-led military coalition. Both al-Qaida and its rival, the IS group, have exploited the chaos of Yemen’s war to seize territory and carry out attacks.
Emirati forces from the Saudi-led coalition, which are guarding the city’s port and the airport, have sealed off several main streets. Officials said the death toll is expected to rise.
In Kuwait, meanwhile, two negotiators representing the Houthis and their allies, and one from the internationally-recognized government, told The Associated Press that the two sides were drafting a joint statement to announce that they will suspend talks until mid-July, following the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Iftar.
One of the negotiators, a minister in President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government, said “the return to the talks is meant to save face after reaching a deadlock.”
The announcement came a day after U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon visited Kuwait, where the two sides have been meeting since April, to encourage them to reach a peace deal. He also called for the release of prisoners, including journalists and other political detainees, as a goodwill gesture ahead of the holiday.
The government has demanded the implementation of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on the rebels to withdraw from all cities, including the capital, Sanaa, and hand over their heavy weapons. The Houthis want to form a unity government prior to any changes on the ground, according to the negotiators.
The negotiators spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The conflict pits the Houthis and security forces loyal to a former president against the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition of mainly Arab states. The conflict has killed an estimated 9,000 people and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.
A truce went into effect a week before the talks began, but the two sides have repeatedly accused each other of breaking it.