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Yemen announces truce during Muslim holiday

Halts operations against Houthi rebels during Eid al-Fitr

Yemen said on Saturday it would halt operations for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in a war with northern rebels that saw dozens die this week, prompting calls for the government to better protect civilians.

"The government will cease military operations in the north western regions from this point forward," a statement in state media said, repeating demands insurgents return territory under their control and submit to central government authority.

It also said the suspension would become a permanent ceasefire if the rebels abided by certain conditions.

The Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is expected to start on Sunday and last for three days. The statement said the ceasefire would start Saturday.

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, leader of the rebels of the Shiite Zaydi Muslim sect in Saada and Amran provinces said they were ready to halt the fighting and called on the government to release prisoners held for four years.

A statement on the rebels' website said that on Friday the army had carried out three air raids and blown up houses in Saada city, which is under government control.

Around 87 people died on Wednesday in an air raid at a makeshift camp for displaced persons in Saada province, and two days earlier a market in the town of al-Talh was bombed.

The incidents met with wide condemnation from aid organizations and Yemeni rights groups. The United Nations top human rights official called on Yemen to carry out its obligation to civilians.

Accusations of war crimes


The leader of the former south Yemen republic -- exiled after a war with President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces in 1994 -- told a gathering of southern separatists that Saleh's government had committed a war crime.

The government accuses the rebels of seeking to restore the Zaydi Shiite imamate which was overthrown in a 1962 coup that sparked eight years of civil war.

The government in Sanaa says the rebels, referred to as Houthis after their clan leaders, want to restore a Shiite state that fell in the 1960s.

The army launched operation Scorched Earth against the rebels on Aug. 11, and relief groups warned of worsening humanitarian conditions among the tens of thousands of civilians forced from their homes by the fighting.

U.N. aid agencies say around 150,000 people have been made refugees since the fighting first began in 2004. They launched an appeal in Geneva last month for $23.5 million to help Yemen. Thousands are staying in tented camps in mountainous territory.

Media have had difficulty accessing the conflict zone and verifying conflicting reports from each side.