Meanwhile, the United States announced sanctions on what it called members of a smuggling network that generates tens of millions of dollars for Yemen's Houthis.

A smoke plume billows following a reported air strike by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa, June 10, 2021.
A smoke plume billows following a reported air strike by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen's Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa, June 10, 2021. (AFP)

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-linked Houthi rebels in Yemen says it has stopped carrying out attacks there in order to pave the way for a peaceful settlement.

The statement comes amid growing diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire agreement after more than six years of devastating conflict.

It also followed reports that the coalition had struck a Houthi armoured division near the rebel-held capital Sanaa on Thursday. 

AFP correspondents in the city heard loud explosions and saw smoke rising in the sky.

But coalition spokesperson Turki al Maliki told Saudi state TV that "no military operation has been carried out in the vicinity of Sanaa or any other Yemeni cities in the past period".

The de-escalation is aimed at "preparing the political ground for a peace process in Yemen," he said.

Houthi push to seize Marib

His comments came amid a months-long Houthi offensive to seize Marib and its surrounding oil fields – the last significant pocket of government-held territory in the north.

Marib's loss to the Houthis would be a major blow for Yemen's government, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and could unleash a humanitarian disaster.

READ MORE: Civilians killed as Houthi missile targets Yemen's Marib

Peace effort

Earlier this month, Omani officials visited in Sanaa to try to convince the rebels to accept a ceasefire, according to rebel sources.

Oman's Foreign Minister Badr Albusaidi arrived in the Saudi capital Riyadh for talks on Wednesday.

In another sign of progress in peace efforts, Houthi officials have begun repairing roads near Sanaa airport, local sources told AFP, indicating that the facility could soon be reopened.

The Saudi-led coalition has controlled Yemen's airspace since it launched a military campaign in 2015 to prop up the country's internationally recognised government.

The Houthis have repeatedly demanded the reopening of Sanaa airport before any ceasefire. 

The effort to secure peace in Yemen comes after Saudi Arabia and regional rival Iran restarted talks in April, with their first high-level meeting since Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016.

READ MORE: ‘Do not surrender’: Disabled Yemenis forge a path amid war

US sanctions on Houthi-linked smuggling network

The United States announced sanctions on what it called members of a smuggling network that generates tens millions of dollars for the Houthis, pressuring the Iran-aligned movement to accept a ceasefire and peace talks.

US President Joe Biden's administration has sought to advance a UN effort to ease Yemen's dire humanitarian crisis and end the war pitting the Houthis against the government and a Saudi-led coalition.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated a call for the Houthis to accept a nationwide ceasefire and a resumption of talks on a political settlement to the seven-year-old conflict.

"The United States will continue to apply pressure to the Houthis, including through targeted sanctions, to advance those goals," he said in a statement.

Twelve individuals and entities were slapped with terrorism-related sanctions blocking any US property they hold, and barring Americans from doing business with them. Foreign financial institutions that deal with them could be blacklisted.

The network works with Iran's Quds Force, the elite arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to generate "tens of millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of commodities, like Iranian petroleum," a US Treasury statement said.

A "significant portion" of the funds are "directed through a complex network of intermediaries and exchange houses in multiple countries to the Houthis in Yemen," it continued.

Funds also underwrite "destabilising regional activities" of the Quds Force and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, it said.

The network, it said, is headed by Said Ahmad Muhammad al Jamal, an Iran-based Yemeni who oversees the smuggling "of Iranian fuel, petroleum products, and other commodities to customers throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia." 

The UN says Yemen is suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis as its years-long war rumbles on, with tens of thousands killed, millions displaced and two-thirds of its 30-million population dependent on aid.

READ MORE: Dozens reportedly killed as Yemen's Houthi rebels advance on Marib

Source: TRTWorld and agencies