Thousands of pro-Houthi protesters took to the streets of Sana'a on Sunday (14 June) waving banners and chanting slogans denouncing the Saudi-led coalition strikes that have pounded the country for more than two months.

Carrying models of locally made missiles and a banner showing exiled President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi with a large X across his face, they said they would not be deterred by ongoing air strikes.

"We went out protesting today against the brutal aggression that is targeting innocent civilians and children and we direct a message to them [the coalition forces]; we swear that we will not stand silent in the face of the blood of children and men that is being shed," said pro-Houthi protester Abu Zeid al Mahdi.

"We will hit back twice as hard, as Abdel Malek al Houthi says," he added, referring to a well-known saying often repeated by the Houthi leader.

The protest came just hours before the official launch of the long-anticipated Yemen peace talks at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Saudi Arabia and a coalition of its Sunni Arab allies launched an air offensive against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in March, hoping to force their surrender and restore president Hadi to power.

But despite more than two months of air strikes, the Shi'ite rebels remain firmly in control of much of the war-torn country.

On 14 June, Houthi forces and its army of allies in Yemen seized the capital of a large desert province on the border with Saudi Arabia, residents said, an important victory for the group ahead of the peace talks.

Saudi Arabia views the rebels as a proxy for its arch rival Iran and fears a Houthi takeover in Yemen will further strengthen Iran's sphere of influence in the Gulf region.

Since forming an alliance with Yemen's still powerful former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists in the army, the Houthis have taken over the capital Sana'a and swooped into several central provinces.

Meanwhile, the air strikes have taken a heavy toll on Yemen, already the poorest country in the Arab world. Millions of Yemenis face severe food, water and fuel shortages. So far, some 2,600 Yemenis have been killed.