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Party of former Yemeni president welcomes peace talks

UN-mediated talks between Yemen's exiled government and the Houthis are scheduled to beging on Sunday in Geneva
Yemeni protesters hold a portrait of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration against Saudi-led airstrikes in April (AFP)

The party of Yemen's former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key Houthi ally, on Tuesday welcomed UN-brokered peace talks due to open in Switzerland this weekend.

The General People's Congress said it had not yet received a formal invitation from the United Nations. Late last month, UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with party representatives in the capital, held by the Houthis, as part of his efforts to convene the talks in Geneva.

Saleh himself is under UN sanctions for his support for the Houthis and did not take part in the meetings, party sources said.

The party "welcomes holding the Geneva conference for consultations between Yemeni political components without any preconditions from any group, with good will and under the patronage of the United Nations," its website said.

Saleh, who ruled for 33 years before being forced from power in 2012 after a bloody year-long uprising, threw the support of his loyalists in the army behind the Houthis in the sweeping offensive that forced his successor into exile in March.

Saleh's calls for the peace talks come after allegations emerged last week that he worked with al-Qaeda ahead of the 2008 attack on the US Embassy in Sanaa which killed 19. 

Hani Muhajid, a former al-Qaeda foot soldier, also claimed that Saleh's security chiefs ignored repeated warnings that the group was planning an attack against tourists ahead of a 2007 car-bombing that killed at least 10 in Marib.

Saleh himself proposed Geneva as the venue for the talks as a compromise between Sanaa and the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where exiled President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi is now based.

Saleh's loyalists have been repeatedly targeted alongside the Houthis in a Saudi-led bombing campaign launched in support of Hadi on 26 March.

Coalition strikes hit pro-Saleh troops and Houthis across the capital before dawn on Tuesday, witnesses said.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the defence ministry which they jointly control.

Residents also reported air strikes in third city Taez and the eastern oil province of Marib - both key battlegrounds - and in the Houthi heartland in the far north.

The peace talks are due to open in Geneva on Sunday. They had initially been scheduled for 28 May, but were postponed after Hadi demanded the Houthis first withdraw from seized territory.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urged all sides to join the talks without preconditions in abid to end a conflict which has killed more than 2,000 people since March.

But the exiled president set new conditions in an interview broadcast on Monday, insisting the sole item for discussion would be implementation of a UN resolution demanding the Houthis withdraw.

"There will be no negotiations," Hadi told Al-Arabiya television.