"The rebels still refuse to respond favourably to the call from President Ali Abdullah Saleh to lay down their weapons," he said, adding that tensions were "very high" in the province which borders Saudi Arabia.

In a meeting with opposition parties, al-Ansi and Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani, the speaker of the consultative council, said 727 troops had been killed and 5,296 wounded in clashes with the group since 2004.

The Zaidi sect, led by cleric Hussein Badr Eddin al-Huthi, launched an uprising against government troops in June 2004. He was killed in September 2004, but his followers have continued fighting.

Government accusations

The government had accused al-Huthi of sedition, forming an illegal armed group and inciting anti-American sentiment. His supporters, who say the government is too closely allied with Washington, said authorities had tried to silence the group's criticism of corruption.

"These terrorists have bought large quantities of arms, light, medium and heavy, after receiving funds from inside the country and from abroad"

Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani, speaker
of the Yemeni consultative council
The group signed a truce with the government in 2005 which stipulated that Yemeni soldiers should not be allowed into al-Huthi tribal areas. The group says government forces entered their areas ahead of the clashes. 

"These terrorists have bought large quantities of arms, light, medium and heavy, after receiving funds from inside the country and from abroad," Abdul Ghani said.

Al-Ansi called on the rebels to lay down their weapons and join the political process, form a party in line with the law and to publish newspapers.

The group has accused the government of not being serious about solving the problem peacefully because it is sending large numbers of troops to the battlefields.

Raiddan al-Saqqaf, managing editor of the Yemen Times, told Al Jazeera: "There are mediations going on ... however I am not optimistic because of each party's conditions for a truce ... for example the government wants the surrender of heavy weaponry and also the surrender of those militants who are attacking."