Houthis ready to take part in Yemen peace talks

Senior member says group will negotiate if Saudi-led air campaign is halted

Yemen’s Houthis are ready to sit down for peace talks as long as a Saudi-led air campaign is halted and the negotiations are overseen by "non-aggressive” parties, a senior Houthi member said.

Saleh al-Sammad, who was an adviser to president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, also told reporters that Yemenis reject the idea of Mr Hadi returning.

The president escaped to Saudi Arabia after Shi'ite Houthi fighters edged closer to his southern base of Aden last month.

Warplanes and ships from a Saudi-led coalition have been bombing the Iran-backed Houthi forces for 11 days, saying they are trying to drive back the Houthis and restore Mr Hadi. UN-brokered peace talks in the preceding weeks between Mr Hadi and the Houthis had failed.


Mr Sammad said: “We still stand by our position on dialogue and we demand its continuation despite everything that has happened, on the basis of respect and acknowledging the other.

“We have no conditions except a halt to the aggression and sitting on the dialogue table within a specific time period . . . and any international or regional parties that have no aggressive positions towards the Yemeni people can oversee the dialogue.”

Mr Sammad said that he wanted the dialogue sessions aired to the Yemeni people “so that they can know who is the obstructer”.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud was quoted as saying that the kingdom was also ready for a political meeting of Yemeni parties, under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Five out of the six GCC member states are part of the military coalition which is bombing the Houthis.

Mr Sammad denied the Houthis want control of south Yemen, home to a long-running secessionist movement, and said they were focused on confronting the threat from al-Qaeda.

“The sons of the south will run their own affairs and they will have the more prominent role in the coming political scene.”

Houthi advances

Yemen’s Houthi militiamen, supported by army units, gained ground in the southern city of Aden, pushing back president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi loyalists.

Residents took refuge in their homes and reported hearing sporadic gunfire and blasts of rocket-propelled grenades, and one witness saw a Houthi tank in the downtown Mualla district, which sits astride Aden’s main commercial port.

Houthi forces have inched forward in street-fighting in the city despite the 11-day nationwide bombing campaign by the Saudi-led coalition.

Saudi planes parachuted weapons to Mr Hadi’s supporters there on Friday, helping them temporarily beat back Houthi advances.

Saudi Arabia has said defending Aden is a “main objective” of its mission and Mr Hadi’s administration has called for a foreign ground intervention into the beleaguered city.

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi ambassador to the US, said sending ground troops remained "on the table" and the operation's spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri declined to comment on media reports of Saudi special forces there.

In the city of Lawdar about 200km east of Aden, 10 Houthi fighters and allied soldiers were killed in clashes which also killed four local tribesmen, residents said.

Aden bombarded

Previously, Aden residents said ships from the Saudi-led coalition bombarded Houthi forces who have taken over districts close to the centre of the city.

Hadi loyalists managed to push the Houthis and their allies from central Aden's Crater district on Friday, a rare victory after more than a week of gains by the Shi'ite Houthis, who are backed by soldiers loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

A fighter in Aden, Khaled Ahmed Saif, appealed on local television for the coalition to send ground troops as soon as possible, saying the city was being subjected to a "genocidal war" by the Houthis.

Late on Saturday, Houthi forces entered the central Aden district of Mualla, where the port is located, and witnesses reported heavy fighting.

Residents said life was becoming unbearable. "How long can people live without water or electricity?" said Mohammad Fara'a. Another Crater resident, Hassan Abdallah, said people were using a long-disused well at one of the mosques to get water.

Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, asked about the calls for a humanitarian pause, said only that the military was ready for any instructions from its political leadership. He said aid agencies and governments should coordinate aid shipments with officials in Riyadh.

Sana’a bombing

Warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition bombed Yemen’s capital Sana’a overnight, residents said.

The strikes came despite calls by Russia and the Red Cross on Saturday for a pause to allow urgent humanitarian aid deliveries and evacuation of civilians.

Residents reported explosions at bases housing army units loyal to the Houthis, while air strikes also hit areas along Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia.

In the eastern port town of Mukalla, local tribesmen clashed with army troops and killed two soldiers, residents said. Armed tribesmen entered the city on Saturday to combat al-Qaeda militants who overran parts of it two days earlier.

Russia and the Red Cross had appealed for a military pause to allow urgent humanitarian aid deliveries and evacuation of civilians after 10 days of strikes and fighting in which hundreds of people have died.

Russia distributed a draft resolution at the United Nations pressing for suspensions of the air strikes to allow evacuation of foreign civilians and diplomats, and demanding rapid and unhindered humanitarian access.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called for an immediate pause in hostilities to deliver life-saving medical aid, saying three of its shipments remained blocked.

“All air, land and sea routes must be opened without delay for at least 24 hours to enable help to reach people cut off after more than a week of intense air strikes and fierce ground fighting nationwide,” the ICRC said in a statement.

The United Nations says more than 500 people have been killed in the past two weeks in Yemen and nearly 1,700 wounded. Residents in Aden say parts of the southern port city have been without water or electricity for two days.

There was no sign of a halt in the fighting.