The army's deputy chief of staff, Major General Ali Muhammad Salah, said on Thursday that Shaikh Husayn Badr al-Din al-Huthi "and whoever is still with him are living their last breath" in the Maran mountains.

"Al-Huthi and a group of his followers have dispersed in homes in Jalil, Al-Jumaima and Al-Khirb in an attempt to hide," he was quoted as saying by the official news agency SABA.

"Army and security forces are now tracking them down in their hiding places until they are caught and brought to justice," he added.

Salah said food and medicine were being distributed to residents of the Maran region, which had "returned to calm and stability after the liquidation there of rebel elements".

President Ali Abd Allah Salih, also quoted by SABA, said the army had "suffered a number of martyred and wounded for the sake of the security and stability of the nation".

Reward offered

Al-Huthi is accused of setting up
unlicensed religious centres

Salih, who claimed that al-Huthi "only represents himself", said the aim of the fresh military assault launched since 3 August to crush al-Huthi's rebellion was "to end extremism".

The Yemeni Government accuses al-Huthi, leader of the Believing Youth group and a Zaidi Shia Muslim sect, of setting up unlicensed religious centres and of forming an armed group which has staged violent protests against the United States and Israel.

It has offered a $55,000 reward for his capture.

However, critics of the army offensive say the accusations levelled against al-Huthi do not justify the number of poeple killed in the hunt for him.

Others say the Yemeni Government is trying to curry favour with the US by eliminating Islamist opposition groups.

Anti-US sentiment is running high in Yemen over the presence of US troops in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Death toll

President Salih's opponents say
he is trying to impress the US

The latest army assault has left at least 89 dead, including 47 soldiers and 42 rebels, and about 106 wounded.

Government forces are still facing resistance in several villages in the Maran mountains which have been overrun by the regular army since the start of the onslaught, military sources said.

The onslaught came after the failure of efforts to broker the surrender of al-Huthi and his estimated 3000 armed supporters.

The clashes between the army and al-Huthi's supporters have left a total of nearly 400 people dead since the rebellion erupted on 18 June.

The full toll could be higher as the army has given few details of its own losses.