Yemeni government counters a Shiite rebellion | india | Hindustan Times
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Yemeni government counters a Shiite rebellion

Yemeni government forces used artillery and aircraft to attack Shiite rebels near the border with Saudi Arabia in an escalation of the five-year-old conflict, rebels and local officials said on Wednesday.

india Updated: Aug 12, 2009 19:24 IST

Yemeni government forces used artillery and aircraft to attack Shiite rebels near the border with Saudi Arabia in an escalation of the five-year-old conflict, rebels and local officials said on Wednesday.

The government offensive, which is believed to have started late Tuesday and continued on Wednesday, followed reports Tuesday of rebels seizing more control of the northern Saada province from government forces. A high-level security committee, headed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, promised to respond to the rebels "with an iron-fist."

A health ministry official in Saada said so far 12 people have been killed in the fighting, and 51 injured. Local officials and a rebel spokesman said hundreds of people have fled the bombing and clashes which took place in numerous areas of Saada province.

Local and health ministry officials in Saada spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The rebellion in northern Saada province, which borders predominantly Sunni Saudi Arabia, pits Shiite Muslims against Yemen's Sunni-led government.

The impoverished Arabian peninsula country is already battling a separate uprising to the south and a resurgent Al-Qaida. The Yemeni government has little authority in the mountainous areas outside the major cities and has tried repeatedly to suppress the rebellion, but with little success.

The stability of Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, is a key concern for both Saudi Arabia and the US Saudi Arabia fears the conflict could make the kingdom's own disgruntled Shiite tribes directly across the border more restive. The Shiite rebellion is also a cause for concern for other Sunni Arab countries, who worry about the widening influence of Shiite Iran.

Shiites in Yemen complain the government ignores their needs and has allowed Wahhabis, people adhering to a strict version of Sunni Islam found in neighboring Saudi Arabia, too strong of a voice in the country. The Wahhabis gained influence after helping the Yemeni government win the 1994 civil war with the secessionist south. Rebel officials say they are fighting to get rid of the army presence in the province.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam said bombing, which started late Tuesday, intensified early Wednesday in Haydan, in southwestern Saada. He said some missiles fell in residential areas, killing civilians, and destroying homes.

"We remind the authorities that we are totally ready to confront their aggression, and their loss will be more than previous rounds," Abdel-Salam said in a statement.

A local aid worker said at least 28 people were treated at his hospital.

A local security official said the army arrested a number of rebels, but didn't give a figure. Both officials were speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the media.

The U.N. refugee agency official in northern Yemen, Claire Bourgeois, said the organization is looking to assist at least 1,500 families displaced by the fighting in the area of Malahidh, where some of the worst fighting continued on Wednesday.

"We fear the numbers could be much higher, many people fled their homes in an emergency, so we are assuming they didn't take necessities with them," she said. "There is still fighting today."