Yemen's government on Sunday rejected a cease-fire offer from the country's northern rebels and issued a fresh demand calling on the militants to pledged not to attack neighboring Saudi Arabia, AP reported.
After more than five years of sporadic fighting with the rebels, Yemen has come under international pressure to quickly end the conflict to free up resources to confront a separate threat from an al-Qaida offshoot that has set up operations there over the past year.
On Saturday, the leader of the country's northern rebels, Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi, said he is ready to accept the government's original conditions for a cease-fire. That announcement came days after the militants declared a unilateral cease-fire with Saudi Arabia. Both declarations appear to signal an attempt by the rebels to seize on international pressure to end the conflict.
Yemen's Supreme Defense Council on Sunday rejected that offer, but added that it was ready to halt military operations "under a certain framework."
The council said in a statement the rebels must first comply with the government's original cease-fire offer from September, which demanded the militants disarm, release captured soldiers and property, remove roadblocks, withdraw from strategic positions and abide by the constitution.
The government added a sixth condition Sunday - the militants must also vow not to attack Saudi Arabia.
The fighting between Yemen's military and the northern rebels, ferocious fighters who know the mountainous terrain better than the army, intensified in August. Saudi Arabia was drawn into the conflict in November after rebels crossed the border and killed two Saudi border guards.
The Saudis, who have lost 133 soldiers during the fighting, have responded cautiously to the rebel's unilateral cease-fire. They have demanded the rebels pullback from border positions and return six missing Saudi soldiers.
The war has uprooted some 125,000 people and claimed an undetermined number of lives.
The rebels say their community of Shiite Muslims from the Zaydi sect suffer discrimination and neglect and that the government has allowed ultraconservative Sunni extremists too strong a voice in the country. Hard-line Sunnis consider Shiites heretics.