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Yemen's Houthis say they will attend Geneva peace talks

Days after talks between US, UK officials and Houthis in Oman, group agrees to attend UN-brokered talks with Yemeni government
A Yemeni gunmen loyal to the Houthis runs a checkpoint in Sanaa (AFP)

Yemen's Shia Houthi militia agreed on Friday to attend UN-brokered peace talks in Switzerland, which the war-torn country's exiled government confirmed it too would attend.

"We accepted the invitation of the United Nations to go to the negotiating table in Geneva without preconditions," said Daifallah al-Shami, a politburo member of the militia's political wing.

Speaking to AFP, he added that they "will not accept conditions" from other parties.

Ezzedine al-Isbahi, information minister of the Yemeni government exiled in Riyadh, said it would send a delegation to the talks provisionally scheduled for 14 June.

UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the Security Council on Wednesday that the government had agreed to attend but that he was still in consultation with the rebels.

"The government agreed to participate in the Geneva talks," Isbahi told AFP.

He said the meeting would involve "consultations on implementing Resolution 2216".

The April Security Council resolution imposed an arms embargo on the Houthi militia and demanded they relinquish seized territory.

After overrunning the capital Sanaa in September, the Houthis seized much of the country, prompting a Saudi-led bombing campaign that began on 26 March in support of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Saudi Arabia feared the Houthis would take over all of Yemen and move it into the orbit of the kingdom's regional rival Iran.

Pro-government forces have been fighting the militia and their allies in a war which the United Nations says has killed 2,200 people and forced more than half a million from their homes.

'Catastrophic' crisis

The Security Council this week heard a report from new UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien who described Yemen's humanitarian crisis as "catastrophic," with 20 million civilians - 80 percent of the population - in need of aid.

Confirmation that the government and the rebels would both send delegations to Switzerland follows a flurry of diplomacy after the United Nations was forced to abandon plans to convene talks last week.

Hadi's government refused to attend unless the rebels pulled back from at least some of the territory they have seized in line with Resolution 2216. 

On Tuesday, Washington said Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson had met Houthi representatives in neighbouring Oman to try to persuade them to join the proposed Geneva conference.

Patterson also travelled to Saudi Arabia for talks with the kingdom's leaders as well as Hadi, who fled Yemen in March when the rebels moved on the port city of Aden which had become his sanctuary.

UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with Hadi this week after holding talks in rebel-held Sanaa.

The US talks with the rebels followed a mission to Muscat last week by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

A diplomat in Oman said the Houthis told the US they want a halt to the Saudi-led bombing campaign and unrestricted access for deliveries of humanitarian aid.

Muscat has good ties with both Tehran and Washington, and has often played the role of mediator. 

It is the only member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council not to have joined the air war against the Houthi militia.