Rashad al-Alimi also told parliament on Saturday that 331 supporters of Husain al-Huthi had been arrested, most of them before military action against the group which began on 20 June in Saada province, 240 km north of the capital Sanaa. 

"Huthi refused all mediation efforts by parliamentarians, Muslim scholars and government officials to surrender peacefully," the minister said, adding that a siege continued. 

He said 21 rebels and 120 government security and military forces had been injured in the clashes. 

"Their resistance is diminishing and we expect those besieged
rebels to give up when food and water supplies run out," a military commander involved in the operation told Deutsche Presse-Agentur, dpa by telephone.

Accusations

The government accused al-Huthi, a leader of the Zaidi Shia sect, of setting up unlicensed religious centres in Saada and other provinces and forming what it described as an underground armed group called the "Believing Youth", which has staged violent protests against the United States and Israel. 

"Their resistance is diminishing and we expect those besieged
rebels to give up when food and water supplies run out"

A military commander

"Each member of this group receives $200 a month which indicates they may have foreign support," al-Alimi said but did not elaborate. 

On Tuesday, Yemeni forces killed Zaid bin Ali al-Huthi, deputy commander of "Believing Youth". A government-owned newspaper said on Friday al-Huthi's brother had also been killed in the clashes. 

Sources close to al-Huthi have put the death toll from the clashes, which began on 20 June, at about 200.

Anti-US sentiment is high in the region over the US-led occupation of Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The government said last Tuesday it would close unlicensed
schools and reform its education system to combat the rise.