SANAA (Reuters) - A top official in Yemen’s armed Houthi movement on Sunday offered to stop attacks on Saudi Arabia and an amnesty for Yemeni fighters opposing the group if the kingdom stopped air strikes and lifted a near blockade on the country.
The move falls short of demands by Yemen’s government and their backers in Saudi Arabia, but offers rare hope for a pause to 18 months of fighting which has killed at least 10,000 people and pushed impoverished Yemen toward famine.
“(In exchange for) stopping the aggression against our country by land, sea and air, stopping the air strikes and lifting the siege imposed on our country, in return (we will)stop combat operations on the border,” Saleh al-Samad, the chief of a Houthi-backed political council, said in a speech.
Hailing from Yemen’s Zaydi Shi’ite sect, the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and pushed the government out of its last stronghold in Aden in March 2015.
The advances by the Iran-allied group prompted an intervention by a Saudi-led coalition that has launched thousands of air strikes on the Houthis and their allies in Yemen’s army but has failed to push them out of the capital.
A near-blockade on Yemen’s ports, which the coalition says is aimed at arms bound to the Houthis, has also hobbled Yemen’s already struggling economy and created a humanitarian crisis.
For months, the Houthis have retaliated with attacks on Saudi Arabia from its mountainous strongholds in northern Yemen and has launched around a dozen ballistic missiles at the kingdom, all of which were intercepted.
Fighting has also raged within the country between pro-Houthi and pro-government militiamen, soldiers and tribal gunmen - a tangle of armed groups so complex that any peace initiative would struggle to contain them.
Samad said the group was prepared to pardon its foes.
“(We call) all fighters on the side of the aggression on the various fronts to respond to a general amnesty and come back into the national fold,” he said.
Two shaky truces accompanied previous efforts mediated by the United Nations to end the conflict, and the leader of the Houthi group warned last week that the conflict would last “God knows how long”.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government say that any move toward peace can begin only when the Houthis heed a 2015 U.N. Security Council Resolution mandating that they quit Yemen’s main cities.
Saudi Arabia has said the conflict is an internal Yemeni matter and that it will not negotiate with the Houthis.
Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Alison Williams