Yemen government rejects talks, launches major offensive

 Yemen`s exiled government backed out of UN-brokered peace talks as loyalist forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition launched a major offensive Sunday against Shiite Huthi rebels.

Al-Aber: Yemen`s exiled government backed out of UN-brokered peace talks as loyalist forces supported by a Saudi-led coalition launched a major offensive Sunday against Shiite Huthi rebels.

A military official said the offensive aimed to push the Iran-backed rebels out of the oil-rich Marib province east of Sanaa and eventually move on the capital, which the rebels seized a year ago.

President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi`s government, which has fled to Saudi Arabia, said Friday it would join UN-mediated talks this week in Oman.

But in a short statement overnight Hadi`s office said the government would not join the talks unless the rebels first accept a UN resolution demanding their withdrawal from territory they have captured.

The government decided "not to take part in any meeting until the militia recognises Resolution 2216 and agrees to implement it without conditions," the statement said.

The UN`s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, had announced that both the government and the rebels agreed to take part in the talks in Oman, the only Gulf Arab state that has not joined the Saudi-led coalition.

The United Nations has called repeatedly for a ceasefire in Yemen, which has been wracked by conflict since March when the coalition launched air strikes on the rebels as they advanced on the southern city of Aden.

Hadi had fled to Aden after the rebels seized control of Sanaa to press their demands for a greater share of power in the Sunni-majority country.

Gulf Arab states have accused Shiite regional rival Iran of backing the rebels in a bid to destabilise the impoverished country on Saudi Arabia`s southern border.

Previous attempts at talks to end the conflict -- which the United Nations estimates has killed more than 4,500 people -- have repeatedly collapsed.Pro-government forces have made significant gains in recent months as the coalition intensified air strikes and sent modern equipment and reportedly thousands of troops to Yemen.

Analysts have said the war is entering a new and potentially decisive phase as Gulf nations build up ground forces to battle the rebels in the capital and their northern strongholds.

In July, loyalist troops freshly trained and equipped by the coalition pushed the rebels out of Aden and four other southern provinces. 

On Sunday, Hadi loyalists launched the "largest and fiercest offensive since operations began in Marib province," the military official said, adding that attacks have targeted rebels in the areas of Jufeinah, Faw and Thatt-Alra.

Most of Marib is controlled by fighters and armed tribes allied with Hadi, but the rebels and renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh hold parts of the province.

Saleh, who ruled for 33 years before being forced from power in 2012 after a bloody year-long uprising, has thrown the support of his loyalists in the army behind the Huthis.

The military operation launched Sunday aims to "regain control of the provinces of Marib and Jawf, as well as of Sanaa," the official said following a military parade in Al-Aber, a city in the eastern Hadramawt province.

General Samir Shamfan, commander of the 23rd Mechanised Brigade based in Al-Aber, said about 12,000 soldiers have been assembled in the city, which is some 270 kilometres (170 miles) east of Marib city. 

The region`s Wadia border crossing point has seen coalition military reinforcements flow in over the past weeks in preparation for an offensive to retake Sanaa.

The coalition has also intensified its air raids against the rebels since a missile attack earlier this month killed 60 Gulf troops, most of them Emiratis, at the Safer base in Marib.

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