SANAA, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Yemeni Shi‘ite rebels fighting in the north of the troubled Arabian Peninsula country warned of a "long war" on Wednesday after the government rejected a truce offer.
"Since the authorities have rejected the initiative, we remind them that they have lost a valuable opportunity," said a statement from the office of the opposition group’s leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.
"From now on they will see the grave consequences of the war and we promise them major surprises and a long war of attrition, longer than they think and in which we shall be patient. We will stand up to their aggressions and tyranny."
The rebels of the Shi‘ite Zaydi sect say they want more autonomy, including Zaydi schools in their area. They oppose the spread of Saudi-influenced Sunni fundamentalism and say they are defending their villages against government oppression.
The government says they want to restore a Shi‘ite state overthrown in the 1960s and has summoned the Iranian ambassador over Iranian media’s coverage of the fighting.
A government spokesman said the offer contained nothing new and reiterated demands for the rebels to stop fighting, reopen roads, withdraw from areas they had occupied and stop "interference" in local government.
The conflict has worried neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Western countries, who fear al Qaeda could exploit Yemen’s instability to launch attacks in the region. The Sanaa government is also challenged by secessionists in the south.
A militant who tried to assassinate the Saudi deputy interior minister last week entered the country from Yemen.
Information about the conduct of the war, focused mainly on the Saada region, has been hard to verify since the area has been closed to media.
More than 100,000 people, many of them children, have fled their homes during the recent surge in fighting, a U.N. agency said last month, and aid groups have complained of poor access to the war zone. [ID:nN2184004]
The World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday it had managed to distribute food aid to only 10,000 in Hajjah and Saada governorates in August compared to 95,000 people in July due to limited access.
"WFP is now calling for safe corridors to be opened so that assistance can reach all those displaced by the latest fighting," it said. United Nations agencies have moved staff out of Saada to the capital. (Reporting by Mohammed al-Ghobari; writing by Andrew Hammond)