Yemen’s Houthi fighters have boycotted a dialogue conference in the Saudi capital as the country’s exiled president opened the three-day event aimed at tackling the lingering crisis.
Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and around 400 delegates gathered in Riyadh on Sunday, with leading factions including the Sunni Islah party, Socialists and members of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s political party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), in attendance.
The Houthis, who control large swaths of the country, refused to attend the talks in Saudi Arabia, or any other nation involved in bombing the country, demanding talks be held in Yemen.
The rebels have long complained of marginalisation and have fought six wars with the central government between 2004 and 2010. Last year, they launched a sweeping advance from their northern stronghold, seizing the capital Sanaa in September, and have since tried to expand their control.
Speaking at the conference, Hadi made a defiant attack on the Houthis, before saying he was intent on returning to Sanaa, and wanted the international community to help put an end to the fighting.
“We look forward to building a federal Yemen that never excludes any party,” he added.
Abdulaziz al-Jaber, the head of the conference’s organising committee, said although the Houthis were not participating, Saleh’s GPC party “has many of its leaders taking part”. But he said that “we will not deal with” Saleh or others facing international sanctions.
Saleh, who led the country until 2011 and is widely believed to be helping the Houthi advance, has been on a United Nations and US sanctions lists since November.
Daniel Martin Varisco, a research professor at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera that the Houthis, who number around 120,000, would not be in the position they are in were it not for Saleh.
“This alliance has been going on for a long time and highlights the complexities and shifting alliances with this country,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Riyadh, said the meeting was aimed at forming a political settlement and develop a roadmap for the future of Yemen.
“This meeting is intended to show that Hadi has the backing of at least two-thirds of Yemen’s political parties,” Ahelbarra said.
The Houthis southward push forced Hadi to flee to Riyadh and prompted an Arab coalition to launch air strikes against the rebels on March 26.
Despite seven weeks of air strikes and street battles, the rebels still maintain control over much of the country.
The conference comes as at least 10 people have been killed in overnight clashes in Yemen’s southern city of Taiz, where Houthi fighters continued their offensive on the final day of the five-day humanitarian truce.
Residents and medical sources told the Reuters news agency on Sunday that several people were also wounded when artillery shells fired by the Houthis landed in a predominantly residential neighbourhood.
Fighting also took place in the city of Ad-Dali but there was no immediate information on casualties.
In multiple cities, including Aden and Taiz, residents say they have not yet received any of the badly needed assistance despite the ceasefire.
Yemen has been suffering from severe fuel shortages – grinding humanitarian operations to a halt – and news of the deliveries prompted motorists to start queueing at petrol stations in Sanaa.
The number of disease outbreaks has risen sharply and shortages of safe water have become acute across much of the country.