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Yemen says near deal to end war with Houthis

Deal needs signoff from rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi

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Yemen is close to reaching a deal with northern Shiite rebels, a government official said on Wednesday, aiming to end a war that has raged on and off since 2004 and drawn in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The government and rebels have been exchanging proposals in recent days to settle the conflict, one of three that the government is fighting on its territory, and Sanaa was waiting for a final agreement from rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.

"A deal is expected to be finalized soon with the Houthis to end the war," the official said.

He said the development comes "in light of al-Houthi's acceptance of the six conditions," put forward by the Sanaa government, which included a recently added condition to pledge not to attack neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Yemen said last week it had handed the rebels from the Shiite minority a timetable for implementing the government's ceasefire terms, a week after rejecting their truce offer because it did not include a promise to end hostilities with Saudi Arabia.

A deal is expected to be finalized soon with the Houthis to end the war

Yemeni government official

The Saudi condition

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, was drawn into the conflict in November when the rebels seized some of the kingdom's territory, complaining that Riyadh was letting Yemeni troops use its territory for attacks against them.

Riyadh declared victory over the rebels last month after they offered a separate truce, and said they had withdrawn from Saudi territory. But the insurgents say Saudi airstrikes have continued.

A mediator signaled on Tuesday possible progress in efforts towards a truce between Yemeni government forces and the rebels, who complain of social, religious and economic discrimination.

Qatar brokered a short-lived ceasefire between the government and rebels in 2007 and a peace deal in 2008, but clashes soon broke out again. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh unilaterally declared the war again in July 2008 and full-scale fighting resumed a year later.

At the end of last month, the rebels offered to accept the five conditions originally set by the government for a ceasefire.

Those were a withdrawal from government buildings, reopening of roads in the north, return of weapons seized from security services, freeing of all prisoners, including Saudis, and abandoning military posts in the mountains.

But the government rejected the offer, saying the rebels also needed to accept a sixth key condition -- a promise to stop attacking Saudi territory.

Sanaa is also struggling with a southern secessionist movement and cracking down on al-Qaeda, whose Yemen-based regional wing claimed a failed bomb attack on a U.S.-bound plane in December.

Western powers and neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, fear that Yemen's growing instability may allow al-Qaeda to strengthen its operations.