SANAA Nov 17 (Reuters) - Qatar pressed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign a Gulf power transfer deal and a U.N. envoy on a mission to resolve the crisis met opposition leaders in Sanaa on Thursday.
Saleh has repeatedly backed out of signing the accord first proposed by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council in April to help end protests that have brought the impoverished Arab country to the verge of civil war.
"We call on the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to immediately sign the Gulf initiative without delay," Qatar's QNA news agency quoted Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani as saying in the Moroccan capital Rabat on Wednesday.
Qatar, a Gulf Arab state with huge gas reserves and home to the influential Al Jazeera satellite channel, has played a key role in diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in Syria. It also participated in a NATO-led mission to protect civilians in Libya that helped topple strongman Muammar Gaddafi last month.
Saleh has recently chided Qatar without mentioning it by name as a small country of little importance.
U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar met opposition leaders in Sanaa in an effort to end the 10-month crisis. Ahmed Obaid bin Dagher, a top leader of Saleh's ruling People's Congress party, was quoted as saying that Yemen was close to a resolution of the crisis.
The 26 September newspaper of the Yemeni armed forces quoted bin Dagher as saying he was convinced that "we are reaching an end to the crisis, and there is no way out except through an agreement between the concerned parties".
Saleh has said he is ready to sign the accord once an agreement is reached on what he called an operational mechanism for implementing the Arab deal. It calls for the president to hand over his powers to his deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who will set up a unity government and prepare for early elections.
Saleh says he wants to stay on as president until an election for a new head of state is held, a demand rejected by the opposition.
Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, a prominent tribal leader opposed to Saleh whose followers have fought pitched battles with Yemeni government forces, said he opposed giving Saleh or any of his aides immunity from prosecution under the Gulf peace initiative.
"We want a solution for Yemen, not for Saleh," his website quoted him as saying during a meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa on Wednesday.