CAIRO (AP) — The Saudi-led coalition behind a year-long military campaign against Yemen's Shiite rebels is ready to commit to a cease-fire as long as the rebels abide by a U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for their pullout from Yemeni cities, the alliance's spokesman said Friday.
Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri told The Associated Press that the Yemeni rebels known as Houthis should "show commitment" to the upcoming April 18 peace talks that could yield a political settlement. The rebels must also recognize the government of Yemeni President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi and hand over their heavy weapons, he said.
If talks fail, al-Asiri said the military option remains on the table.
"The two tracks are parallel: the political and the military. Whatever way leads to the restoration of the internationally-recognized government, we will take," al-Asiri added, speaking in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
The Iran-backed rebels have been negotiating with the Saudis in past weeks on prisoner swaps and a halt of fighting along the Yemeni-Saudi border.
Yemen's conflict pits Hadi's internationally-recognized government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, against the Houthis, allied with a former Yemeni president.
The Houthis took over their country's capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, and the coalition, which is backed by the United States, began airstrikes against them in March 2015.
So far, al-Asiri said the coalition has managed to roll back Houthi gains in 85 percent of Yemen's territory, something others dispute since the rebels still control most of the northern cities and Sanaa.
The United Nations says the year-long conflict has killed about 9,000 people, including more than 3,000 civilians. Rights groups have blamed the airstrikes for most of the deaths. On Thursday, Human Rights Watch issued a report detailing a recent deadly airstrike that killed 119 people in a market in Hajja province, saying U.S.-made bombs were used in the airstrikes.
Al-Asiri described the report as "misleading," insisting the alliance only targets Houthis, who in turn use civilians as cover. He also claimed the United Nations is depending on flawed reports, mostly obtained from Houthis since the world body has no staffers on the ground.
"I challenge the United Nations agencies to show they have people on the ground" in Yemen, he said.
Yemen's a-Qaida branch and other Islamic militants have exploited the chaos of the war to increase their footholds. In the past weeks, the United States has waged a series of airstrikes targeting an al-Qaida training camp, positions, and vehicles.
Al-Asiri said these were a "combined" effort, with the coalition providing intelligence and logistical support. But he said the war on al-Qaida requires a long-term strategy that involves restructuring and rebuilding Yemen's security forces.
Washington considers Yemen's branch — Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula — as the terror network's most dangerous offshoot. In Yemen, the branch has managed over the past months to seize several cities along the Arabian Sea, including Mukalla, the provincial capital of Yemen's largest province of Hadramawt.