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15 dead as Yemen truce collapses immediately

Anti-government protesters suffering from the effects of tear gas are rushed by fellow protesters to a makeshift clinic.

SANAA: A truce reached by Yemen’s government and dissidents, who have been locked in bloody battles for weeks, collapsed as soon as it was announced Tuesday with fresh fighting rocking the capital.

Fifteen people were killed in Sanaa and Taiz, most of them in Yemen’s second largest city, medical and tribal sources said.

Medics said at least seven people were killed in Taiz, including a 7-year-old child, a woman and a policeman, during what residents said was random shelling by government forces of neighborhoods.

The Interior Ministry said four policemen also died.

In Sanaa, the truce failed to take hold. Tribal sources said at least one man was killed and nine people were wounded when shelling rocked the northern Al-Hasaba neighborhood.

The government and dissident general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar had reached a cease-fire agreement, according to an official statement.

Tribal forces in Al-Hasaba led by Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who backs the general and has thrown his support behind pro-democracy protests across Yemen, also agreed to the cease-fire, sources in his office told AFP.

The government statement said the truce went into immediate effect, but Sadiq’s brother, Sheikh Hemyar, told AFP that President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s troops continued to attack the Ahmars’ homes.

“The truce was not respected for one second by the government,” Sheikh Hemyar told AFP by telephone. “As I talk to you, our homes are being shelled” in the district of Al-Hasaba.

Residents in Al-Hasaba confirmed that the area was being raked by gunfire and explosions.

Gunfire also rang out near Change Square, the epicenter of anti-regime protests outside Sanaa University, where the dissident general’s troops have been deployed since March, local residents said.

Tuesday’s announcement came just hours after Saleh’s troops opened fire on thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in the capital killing three people and wounding at least 40 others.

A government crackdown on unarmed protesters in Sanaa has left hundreds dead and thousands wounded since January.

This is the third cease-fire breached since May between the government and tribal chief Sadiq, whose well-armed tribesman have been engaged in fierce battles with Saleh’s troops in the capital’s Hasaba district.

However, it was the first declared truce between Saleh and General Mohsen, who defected in March.

Mohsen’s First Armoured Brigade troops have been battling Saleh loyalists in the capital, stoking fears in the international community that Yemen was headed toward civil war.

Saleh has for months refused to step down after 33 years in power, despite repeated regional and international calls for him to do so.

The escalating violence in the country provoked a U.N. resolution last week that called for Saleh to immediately sign a Gulf-brokered power transition plan in return for immunity from prosecution.

On Monday Saleh said he welcomed the U.N. resolution but did not specify when or if he would sign the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative.

And Tuesday, Saleh met with the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa, telling him that he is committed to a plan to step down, the State Department said, whose spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, welcomed Saleh’s remarks but said he needed to live up to his promises.

Officials told AFP Tuesday that Saleh was in the process of negotiating to modify the initiative to ensure he remains president until early elections are called. He is also lobbying to remove a clause in the agreement that calls for the restructuring of Yemen’s security forces, which are headed by his sons and relatives, in the event of his resignation.

The opposition and the tens of thousands of activists camped out in Change Square are seen as unlikely to accept Saleh’s proposals. 

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 26, 2011, on page 8.

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