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Yemen counters rebels' offer with own preconditions

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Yemen on the brink
  • Yemen's government says it will accept truce offer if rebels comply with six conditions
  • Intractable stance on both sides means 5-year-old conflict is likely to continue
  • Yemen media says rebels' offer is ploy to buy time as they regroup
  • In recent weeks, Yemeni forces have launched crackdown against al Qaeda
  • Yemen
  • Al Qaeda
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Terrorism

(CNN) -- Yemen's government said Sunday it will accept a truce offer only if the rebels operating in the country's north comply with six previously laid-out conditions.

The Shiite Muslim rebels, known as the Houthis, had indicated Saturday that they were open to a cease-fire and to accepting the government conditions. But they demanded an end to military operations first.

The intractable stance on both sides means the conflict, which had lasted more than five years, is likely to continue.

In August, Yemen laid out cease-fire terms that included removing checkpoints, ending banditry, handing over all military equipment and weapons, and releasing civilians and military personnel. Yemen also demanded the rebels stop entering its northern neighbor, Saudi Arabia.

The next month, government officials said Houthi leaders twice rejected the terms.

But the rebels, in their offer of truce Saturday, said they had repeatedly declared they wanted to end the conflict.

"And here, since we are so keen on ending this bloodshed and in order to avoid the catastrophic situation that the country is heading toward and in order to end the acts of genocide against civilians, we renew for the fourth time what we previously announced, our acceptance of the five points that the Yemeni government asked for, after they end the aggression," Houthi rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi said in an audio recording on the group's Web site.

The country's National Defense Council said Sunday it was open to halting military operations once the Houthis complied with all their conditions.

According to a report in Saba, the national news agency: "The Council stressed that if the Houthis start complying with [all of] the six points which the government has already declared as conditions for the military operation to stop, including not to enter territories in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and to hand over all Yemeni and Saudi hostages without delay, then the government does not mind halting the military operation in accordance to specific procedure which does not allow a return of violence, instills peace, promises the return of displaced people to their homes and re-builds what the rebellion and destruction have caused in the province of Saada."

Hakim Al-Masmari, editor-in-chief of the English-language Daily Yemen Post, called the rebels' offer a ploy to buy time as they regrouped.

"If the Houthis does at least one of these conditions, it will be a good sign, but the Houthis aren't doing," he said.

The revolt by the Shiite Muslim Houthis in northern Yemen began in 2004 and has spilled over into Saudi Arabia.

The conflict is believed to be both separatist -- over who will have power in the area -- and sectarian -- whether Shia Islam will dominate even though the majority of Yemenis are Sunni.

The rebels are supporters of slain Shiite cleric Hussein al-Houthi.

Humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch has noted allegations of war violations committed by both sides, and fighting has forced 250,000 people to flee their homes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.

Yemen is also faced with a separatist movement in the country's south and a growing threat from al Qaeda.

In recent weeks, Yemeni forces have launched a crackdown against al Qaeda, and the government has tightened visa policies to prevent militants from entering the country.

The move comes after the attempted bombing of a U.S. flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan.

The suspect in the failed attack, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, spent time in Yemen and is said to have acquired the device used in the foiled bombing from militants in that country. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the plot.

The attempted attack highlighted the risk posed by Yemen to the United States and other Western nations.

On Wednesday, nations, including the United States, pledged in a meeting to stand by Yemen in its struggle to combat terrorism, but pledged not to interfere in the country's internal affairs.

The meeting, convened on the sidelines of an international conference on Afghanistan, included representatives from 21 Western and Arab nations.