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

RIYADH (AFP) - The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-linked Huthi rebels in Yemen said Thursday it had 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 follows reports that the coalition had struck a Huthi armoured division near the rebel-held capital Sanaa Thursday.

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

But coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki told Saudi state television 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 added.

Shortly after his comments, Yemeni state media reported that at least eight civilians had been killed and 27 others wounded in strikes in the northern city of Marib.

It blamed the rebels for the attack.

The government-run Saba news agency said the Huthis had launched two ballistic missiles and two booby-trapped drones targeting a mosque in a residential area, a women s prison, and ambulances that were rushing to the scene after initial strikes.

Among the casualties were medics and women, it added.

On Saturday, a similar strike killed at least 14 civilians at a petrol station in the city.

The Huthis have led a months-long offensive to seize Marib and its surrounding oil fields -- the last significant pocket of government-held territory in the north.

The city s loss to the Huthis would be a major blow for Yemen s coalition-backed government, and aid agencies have warned it could trigger a humanitarian disaster.

Earlier this month, Omani officials visited 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, Huthi 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 Huthis have repeatedly demanded the re-opening 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.

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.