AP Interview: Top Yemen Shiite rebel welcomes UN peace talks

Jun 3, 2015, 2:12 PM
FILE – In this Wednesday, March 25, 2015, file photo, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, who heads the H...
FILE - In this Wednesday, March 25, 2015, file photo, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, who heads the Houthi rebels' powerful Revolutionary Council, center, attends the funeral procession of victims who were killed from triple suicide bombing attacks that hit a pair of mosques in Sanaa, Yemen. In an interview with the Associated Press the second-in-command of Yemen's Shiite rebels has assailed Saudi-led airstrikes targeting his fighters but insists they are ready to travel to Geneva for U.N.-mediated peace talks on resolving the country's crisis. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
(AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — The second-in-command of Yemen’s Shiite rebels said Wednesday that the Iranian-backed group was ready to go to Geneva for U.N.-mediated peace talks on ending the country’s civil war, and accused the internationally-recognized government in exile of “obstructing” dialogue.

Mohammed al-Houthi, who heads the rebels’ powerful Revolutionary Council, told The Associated Press that exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had derailed earlier attempts at negotiations by demanding the rebels first withdraw from all territory they had captured.

“They are putting pre-conditions to obstruct any talks that could lead the Yemeni people to a solution,” al-Houthi said, adding that the Saudi-led coalition refused to halt its air campaign to allow for peace talks. “The coalition is the one that rejects the talks and works on foiling them.”

The talks were postponed last month just two days before they were to have begun on May 28 and no new date has been announced. However, Yemen’s ambassador to the U.N., Khaled Alyemany, told the AP they would begin June 14, and that an official announcement was expected shortly.

A presidential aide said late Tuesday that Hadi was willing to participate in the Geneva talks. The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief reporters, did not mention any conditions.

The rebels, known as Houthis, began their advance in September, sweeping into the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and taking over government ministries and other areas. They held top officials, including Hadi, under house arrest until Hadi fled, first to the southern port city of Aden, then to Saudi Arabia as the rebels closed in backed by forces loyal to former leader President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The Saudi-led air campaign, launched on March 26, and ground fighting have killed more than 1,000 civilians and displaced more than a million people since mid-March, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters Wednesday.

The offensive has so far failed to force the Houthis to withdraw from any territory they hold or blunt their advance in southern Yemen.

The Saudis and Western powers accuse the Houthis of receiving military support from Shiite power Iran as part of a larger proxy war between the Sunni kingdom and the Islamic Republic across the Mideast. Tehran and the rebels deny the allegations, though Iran has acknowledged sending humanitarian aid to the Houthis.

“There is no Iranian intervention in Yemen and the Saudis can inspect the missiles (we fire) and see if these are made in Iran, Russia or America,” al-Houthi said. “We say that they are purely Yemeni-made.”

Asked whether Iranian or Hezbollah forces fight alongside the rebel forces, al-Houthi dismissed the claims as a means to “scare others.”

“We reject any sort of foreign intervention either by the Saudis, the American, the Egyptians or the Iranians,” he said.

Wearing traditional Yemeni robes with a dagger thrust into his silk waistband, al-Houthi sat next to a Kalashnikov assault rifle during the interview, which was held in a lightly guarded house near Sanaa that was bare of furniture except for cushions spread on the ground.

He said the new round of U.N.-mediated talks should begin where the last ones, held in Sanaa earlier this year, left off after the Houthis put Hadi under house arrest.

Those talks included the formation of a new government and parliament, including a presidential council. The only outstanding issue was the “whether to keep Hadi at the top of the presidential council,” al-Houthi said.

Oman, the only Gulf country that is not participating in the Saudi-led coalition, is hosting a series of meetings about the crisis. The Oman-led mediations have secured the release of an injured American journalist held along with several other Americans by the Houthis.

Al-Houthi spoke Wednesday as the Saudi-led coalition launched new airstrikes against rebel positions in Sanaa, rocking residential areas and sending panicked residents fleeing into basements. The assault intensified after dark, targeting the presidential palace, a military complex and other areas that house Houthi command centers. An AP reporter counted more than a dozen airstrikes over a 15-minutes period. There was no immediate word on casualties.

The strikes, as well as a Saudi-led air and sea blockade, have caused food, water and medicine shortages, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Heavy airstrikes also targeted the northern Houthi heartland of Saada, the eastern province of Marib that is home to Yemen’s oil fields, the western city of Taiz and Aden.

“The 69-day assault has pushed the country to disaster,” al-Houthi said. “Yemen is facing a real genocide.”

In the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Rageh Badi, a spokesman for the Yemeni government in exile, accused the Houthis of “systematically assaulting civilians” through random shelling, besieging cities and kidnapping activists and journalists who were being used as “human shields.” He referred to the killing of two journalists last month after the Houthis abducted them and placed them at a site targeted by airstrikes.

Badi said Yemen’s “legitimate government” would return gradually to “safe zones” being set up in the country, starting next week, but did not elaborate.

____________

Associated Press writer Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

World News

People search a collapsed building following an earthquake in Azmarin town, Idlib province, norther...
Associated Press

Death toll soars after powerful earthquake rocks Turkey and Syria

A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked wide swaths of Turkey and neighboring Syria on Monday, killing and injuring thousands of people.
23 hours ago
FILE - A fuel trucks drives along a highway in Frankfurt, Germany, Jan. 27, 2023. European Union go...
Associated Press

Europe bans Russian diesel, other oil products over Ukraine

The new sanctions create uncertainty about prices as the 27-nation European Union finds new supplies of diesel from the U.S., Middle East and India.
2 days ago
(Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images for BoF VOICES)...
Associated Press

Vivienne Westwood, influential fashion maverick, dies at 81

Vivienne Westwood, an influential fashion maverick who played a key role in the punk movement, died Thursday at 81.
1 month ago
FILE - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his first Cabinet meeting flanked by his ...
Associated Press

Rishi Sunak: UK’s ex-Treasury chief gets his shot at PM job

LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak ran for Britain’s top job and lost. Then he got another shot — and the chance to say “I told you so.” The former U.K. Treasury chief was runner-up to Liz Truss in the contest to replace the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. But Truss […]
4 months ago
Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss addresses the media in Downing Street in London, Thursday, Oct. ...
Associated Press

Truss quits, but UK’s political and economic turmoil persist

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss quit Thursday after a tumultuous and historically brief term marred by economic policies that roiled financial markets and a rebellion in her political party that obliterated her authority. After just 45 days in office, Truss became the third Conservative prime minister to be toppled in as many […]
4 months ago
People receive medical treatment at the scene of Russian shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 1...
Associated Press

Russia unleashes biggest attacks in Ukraine in months

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia retaliated Monday for an attack on a critical bridge by unleashing its most widespread strikes against Ukraine in months, a lethal barrage that smashed civilian targets, knocked out power and water, shattered buildings and killed at least 14 people. Ukraine’s Emergency Service said nearly 100 people were wounded in the […]
4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
AP Interview: Top Yemen Shiite rebel welcomes UN peace talks