DOHA (Reuters) - Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh called on Friday on all Yemenis to return to political dialogue to find a way to end the country's spiraling conflict.
Saleh's loyalists have been fighting alongside Iranian-allied Houthi rebels who toppled the central government, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put the onus for peacemaking on the Houthis and their supporters to cease fire.
Saleh also called for talks between Yemenis and Saudi Arabia, which has led a nearly month-long bombing campaign against the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi militia, to be held under United Nations auspices in Geneva.
Saudi-led coalition warplanes continue to target the positions of the Houthis and Saleh loyalists despite announcing an end to the campaign it began a month ago with the goal of helping restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
"I call on all conflicting parties in all provinces to stop fighting and return to dialogue in all provinces," Saleh, who was forced from power by months of mass protests in 2011, said in an emailed statement.
He also urged the Houthis to accept an April 13 U.N. Security Council resolution calling on them to drop their weapons and quit cities they have seized, after Saudi-led forces stop their intervention in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and arch regional adversary of Iran, is concerned about possible security threats posed by the Houthis' advance across Yemen since last September.
Sporadic clashes were reported in Aden on Saturday, after a night of heavy air strikes by Saudi-led forces on Houthi targets in the Lahj provincial capital, al-Houta.
Mohammed al-Bukhaiti of the decision-making politburo of the Houthis' Ansarullah group said the resolution was impractical and biased. "It is not possible to implement it (the resolution) in practice, especially the issue of disarmament and withdrawal from the cities," Bukhaiti told Reuters by telephone.
The Houthis have argued that laying down their arms and vacating the cities under their control would pave the way for al Qaeda militants to fill the vacuum.
Kerry said the Houthis needed to stop fighting and this could bring an end to Saudi air strikes and an opening for a political dialogue.
"This has to be a two-way street," Kerry told a news conference in Iqaluit, Canada, where he attended an Arctic meeting. "We need the Houthis, and we need those who can influence them, to make sure that they're prepared to try to move as they said they are to the negotiating table."
Saleh said he was ready to reconcile with all parties that have opposed him since 2011 "for the interest of the nation".
He further called on all militants, al Qaeda and armed supporters of Hadi to withdraw from the southern port of Aden and hand over power to the army and local authorities.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said a flotilla of nine Iranian naval and cargo ships that U.S. officials feared was carrying arms to Yemen sailed northeast in the direction of Iran on Friday and this should ease U.S. concerns.
The Iranian state news agency IRNA, however, quoted Iran's top navy commander, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari as saying on Saturday that the flotilla was still carrying out its mission in the Gulf of Aden.
The Houthis' Bukhaiti also denied reports that Yemen's defence minister, General Mahmoud al-Subaihi, and Hadi's brother Nasser, who led local militias in Aden, had been freed by the Houthis. He said both men were being held as prisoners of war and would eventually be freed when fighting ends.
(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari, Arshad Mohammed and Sam Wilkin; Writing by Amena Bakr and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich)
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Updated Date: Apr 26, 2015 01:30:07 IST