Yemen's warring parties were on Thursday set to discuss the possibility of localised ceasefires, as stalled UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva showed no signs of moving towards an overall truce.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched the high-stakes negotiations on Monday with an appeal for a badly-needed two-week humanitarian truce. But with that looking increasingly unlikely, Thursday's morning session will focus on the chance of ceasefires in separate small towns, a source close to the negotiations told AFP.
This too appeared to be an uphill task with the two sides taking diametrically opposing stands.
"We discussed the truce but the other side is setting unacceptable conditions," rebel delegation member Hassan Zeid told AFP late Wednesday, adding that the government was demanding a rebel retreat from Aden and Taez, where fighting is raging.
The negotiations, entering their fourth day, have been bogged down by the government's insistence that the Iran-backed
rebels must withdraw from the vast territory they control, including the capital Sanaa. It has also protested the size of the rebel delegation which is more than double of the pre-agreed number of 10.
Huthi rebels and their allies, troops faithful to ousted president Ali Abdallah Saleh, favour a truce but are refusing to withdraw as demanded by the government in exile, which is backed by Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi-led Arab coalition launched aerial raids on rebel positions on March 26, which are still continuing.
The Geneva talks were supposed to end Thursday but they have been extended by a day at least, both sides told AFP.
The UN special envoy for Yemen, Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has urged the warring sides to bend, stressing the dire situation in Yemen where more than 2,600 people have been killed since March and about 21 million people are in severe need of humanitarian aid.
But the belligerents' positions are so far apart that they are not even sitting in the same room and the UN is holding separate consultations with them.
The exiled government's delegation meanwhile attracted controversy after Abdel Wahab al-Humayqani, who heads the hardline Islamist Al-Rashad party in Yemen, took part in the opening of the peace talks, where he was photographed with Ban Ki-moon.
He figures on a US blacklist for being a suspected Al-Qaeda backer.
Humayqani, who was added to the US blacklist in December 2013 suspected of financing Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, also figures on a list of delegates of the government in exile, as a representative of Al-Rashad.
"I categorically deny these accusations and challenge the United States to prove them," he told AFP. "I am ready to appear before Yemeni justice to disprove them," he added.
Yemen has been wracked by conflict between Iran-backed Shiite rebels and troops loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia in February.