September 20, 2015 / 7:14 PM / 4 years ago

Leader says Yemen's Houthis to fight on, but political settlement possible

A youth dressed in military uniform holds up a poster of the Houthi movement's leader Abdel-Malek Badruddin al-Houthi as he and a friend sit under a tree after being stationed to provide security during celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of Yemen's unification, in Sanaa May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

SANAA (Reuters) - The leader of Yemen’s Houthis said on Sunday his group remained open for a political settlement to end nearly six months of fighting but would resist what he called Saudi-led aggression.

In his first televised speech since an Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia began military operations in Yemen, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi also called on Yemenis to demonstrate in Sanaa on Monday afternoon to mark the anniversary of his group’s capture of the capital.

“We call on our people, all strata of our people, to maintain their moves to confront this criminal aggression,” Abdel-Malek said, adding that “political solutions were still possible”.

More than 4,500 Yemeni have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance began military operations in March, in what they said was an attempt to stop the Iranian-allied Houthi group from expanding in Yemen and to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had been pushed into exile in Saudi Arabia.

A delegation from the group, which belongs to Yemen’s Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam, flew to the Omani capital Muscat earlier on Sunday for talks with the United Nations special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, on efforts to reach a deal.

The United Nations last week announced peace talks in the region, but Hadi’s administration said it demanded the Houthis first publicly accept a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on the group to quit cities it seized since last year and allow the government to return to Sanaa.

Abdel-Malek also accused Saudi Arabia of barring most Yemeni pilgrims from traveling to the kingdom to perform the annual haj pilgrimage, which starts this week.

Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Ruth Pitchford

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