Saudi Arabia has said the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had agreed to host talks in Riyadh to end the Yemen crisis, according to the state news agency SPA.

The announcement by the Saudi king's office came on Monday, following a request from Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, but it was not clear who would take part in the talks.

"The security of Yemen is part and parcel of the security of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries," the statement said.

"The GCC countries have expressed their agreement to the request of Yemen's president to hold a conference under the umbrella of the GCC in Riyadh."

Yemen, a neighbour of Saudi Arabia and a global security hotspot because of a strong al-Qaeda presence, is caught in a standoff between Hadi and the Shia Houthi, now the country's de facto rulers who are supported by Iran.

Escape to Aden

Last month, Hadi fled a house arrest by Houthis in the capital Sanaa to the southern port city of Aden and re-established his presidency there.

Soon afterwards, the UN announced it would mediate in a dialogue between the two sides, warning that Yemen was sliding towards civil war.

But Hadi has refused to talk with the Houthis unless they vacate Sanaa and has asked to move the talks to a neutral area.

For his party, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president, who is trying to regain power, has criticised the Hadi government.

He insisted that Sanaa was the capital of Yemen and no one could shift it to any other city. Saleh said President Hadi, who fled from Sanaa, should leave the country and go into exile.

AQAP advance

In another Yemen-related development, fighters of al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) overran and held the southern city of Mahfad - their former stronghold - in Abyan province for hours on Monday before an army counterattack pushed them out, officials said.

AQAP took control of the city council building and several army checkpoints before moving in on a key army base. Fighting killed four Yemeni soldiers and seven AQAP fighters, they said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to journalists.

AQAP has taken advantage of a deep political crisis roiling the country to launch attacks.

The Houthi offensive and its plan to seize control of southern cities with a Sunni majority are threatening to turn the political conflict into a sectarian one. AQAP is likely to benefit from such chaos.

Source: Agencies