SANAA, Yemen — Shiite rebels stormed homes and offices across Yemen’s capital, detaining more than 120 activists and political figures suspected of supporting the Saudi-led coalition in its airstrikes against the insurgents, a rights group said Sunday.
The sweeps came as a senior rebel envoy was quoted as offering peace talks if the Saudi-led air campaign was halted, but opposition to the return of the country’s president could block any move toward dialogue.
The rebels, known as Houthis, have tightened control over the capital, Sanaa, for months. But the latest detentions, which began late Saturday, appear to signal a wider effort to root out suspected opponents as the Saudi-led attacks have targeted insurgent supply lines and ammunition depots but have largely spared populated areas.
The Sanaa Legal Right Center said at least 122 people were held by the rebels, including top members of the Sunni group al-Islah, which is active in Yemen and has ideological ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Ali Alfakih, deputy editor of al-Masdar newspaper in Sanaa, said similar raids were reported in other rebel-held areas, but details could not be confirmed.
An Islah leader, Fat’hi Alazab, was taken into custody at a mosque, said his brother, Rajab Mohammed Alazab.
“He was taken just like that, without even being accused of anything,” he said. “It seems that this has to do with the political statement issued by Islah supporting the coalition war.”
Meanwhile, a senior Houthi figure was quoted by the Reuters news agency as opening the door for talks if the Saudi-led coalition stopped its round-the-clock attacks by warplanes and ships.
It was unclear whether the offer was prompted by losses from the attacks. But the Shiite forces have not significantly fallen back as fighters wage battles over control of Yemen’s second-largest city, Aden, and have fired across the border at Saudi ground troops.
Saudi leaders have said the aim of the military intervention is to drive the rebels back and return the war-exiled president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia late last month.
Saudi Arabia and allies believe the rebels will open a pathway for greater influence by Shiite power Iran. However, the conflict appears mainly a power struggle between forces backed by Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and rebels and other factions opposing the kingdom’s longtime hand in the country on the other.
The Houthis also seemed to stand firm on their rejection of Hadi’s return even as they claimed “no conditions” in the offer of talks, according to the comments to Reuters by rebel official Saleh al-Sammad, a former adviser to Hadi before switching allegiances.
“We have no conditions except a halt to the aggression and sitting on the dialogue table within a specific time period,” Sammad told reporters. “And any international or regional parties that have no aggressive positions towards the Yemeni people can oversee the dialogue.”
But Sammad added that the Yemeni people are opposed to bringing Hadi back to power.
Sammad gave no indication of a possible mediator, but neighboring Oman has stayed out of the conflict as the only Persian Gulf Arab nation not joining the Saudi-led campaign.
Also Sunday, the evacuation of foreign workers stepped up with hundreds more from Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere boarding planes or boats, or given clearance to cross the heavily defended Saudi border.
The United Nations estimates more than 500 people have been killed, including civilians, and nearly 1,700 wounded in the nearly two-week conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross has appealed for a truce amid “dire” shortages of food, medicine and other supplies.
On Sunday, an ICRC spokeswoman in Geneva, Sitara Jabeen, told Reuters that the Red Cross has received permission from the Saudis to send two planes in, one with supplies and one with staff, on Monday.
Murphy reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.