Over 100 reported dead in Yemen after ceasefire call

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Government forces reported more than 100 rebels killed on today as battles intensified in north Yemen two days after the government urged a ceasefire, although a spokesman for the Muslim Shi'ite rebellion disputed the claim.

Yemen, an impoverished state of some 23 million people on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is battling al Qaeda militants and secessionist discontent in the south, as well as the rebellion in the mountainous north bordering Saudi Arabia.

"There has been a discovery of 100 bodies belonging to Houthi rebels on the sides of the roads outside Haraf Sufyan," said a government statement released to the media.

"It seems these are members who had attempted to escape from the fierce fighting in Sufyan city and were chased down."

The government said two rebel leaders, named as Mohsen Hadi al-Qaoud and Saleh Jarman, had been killed in the Haraf Sufyan area of Amran province and others arrested.

Mohammed Abd al-Salam, spokesman for the rebels who the government refers to as Houthis after the tribal name of their leader, said the death toll given by the government was too high, and declined to comment on the fate of Qaoud and Jarman.

Salam is based in Saada province, neighbouring Amran.

The rebels said earlier in a statement Yemeni planes had bombed a commercial district near Saada city. A military source said the raid targeted a petrol station used to supply the rebels.

On Friday the government reiterated ceasefire conditions to the rebels, who rejected the proposal last week.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh said the government "would face this sedition in a decisive way" if the rebels rejected peace.

Yemeni forces have used air strikes, tanks and artillery in an offensive described by officials as an attempt to crush the revolt led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi.

The US embassy in Sanaa issued a statement urging both parties to return to a ceasefire agreement reached last year, and demanding both parties ensure security of relief workers and the safe passage of emergency relief supplies to camps housing internally displaced persons.

The rebels are adherents of the Zaydi branch of Shi'ite Islam, a tribal minority in mostly Sunni Muslim Yemen.