Yemen Rebels Ready to Talk Without Saudi-Backed Leader

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Conflict in Yemen
Yemenis dig graves to bury the victims of a reported airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition against Shiite Huthi rebel positions in the village of Bani Matar, 43 miles West of Sanaa, on April 4, 2015. Photographer: Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images

Yemen’s Houthi movement is ready to resume talks to resolve the country’s crisis if the Saudi-led military coalition stops airstrikes, though it won’t accept the kingdom-backed deposed president returning to power.

Ali al-Kahoum, a member of the Shiite Muslim group’s political department, said talks should be sponsored by a party that’s not involved in the military campaign in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of Sunni nations to face what its officials say is an Iranian proxy seeking to expand the influence of the Islamic Republic in the Middle East. Saudi and Gulf Arab officials have said the aim of the military campaign is to restore the rule of President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi and force the Houthis to resume talks to resolve the crisis peacefully.

“We have always agreed to the principle of dialogue,” al-Kahoum said in a telephone interview late on Sunday. “But Hadi is completely out of the political scene. His legitimacy won’t be restored by planes or on the back of tanks.”

The Houthis advanced from their northern base to seize the capital Sana’a last year. As the crisis worsened and a United Nations-sponsored talks unraveled, Hadi announced his resignation. He later fled a house arrest imposed by the Shiite group, relocated to Aden and retracted his resignation. Last month, he took refuge in Saudi Arabia after his forces crumbled in the face of Houthi fighters, who are allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mediation Offers

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have offered to mediate talks between Yemen’s warring factions. More than 500 people have been killed in the past two weeks, according to the UN.

Fighting raged on Monday in the southern province of Ad-Dali’ between Houthi gunmen and a militia backing Hadi. At least 34 people were killed in the clashes, Naser al-Shuaibi, spokesman of the pro-Hadi group, said by phone.

Al-Kahoum, the Houthi official, didn’t rule out accepting renewed UN efforts to mediate and denied the group was imposing conditions by insisting on Hadi’s ouster.

“He is the one who resigned. He is finished,” he said.

The official also defended a decision to arrest dozens of members belonging to al-Islah party, a group that welcomed the Saudi-led campaign. Al-Islah said in a statement on its website that more than 100 members, including senior leaders, have been arrested.

No Tolerance

“Security forces won’t show any tolerance toward those who act as agents to foreign powers,” al-Kahoum said. Al-Islah’s support of the Saudi-led bombing is a “national treason,” he said.

Russia on Saturday asked the UN Security Council to call for “humanitarian pauses” to the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes so diplomats and civilians caught in the conflict could safely leave the country. Saudi officials called the measure unnecessary.

The airstrikes will continue until their targets are met, Ahmed Asseri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said Sunday, according to the official Saudi-Press Agency. The coalition seeks to cut off rebel forces fighting in Aden “so they don’t receive supplies or get support from other groups,” he said.

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