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Dozens killed as Yemeni troops clash with Shiite rebels

A view of the Al-Saleh mosque in Sanaa June 19, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

SANAA: Yemeni warplanes supported troops battling Shiite Houthi rebels north of Sanaa Friday as fighting intensified, with dozens killed over 48 hours, officials and tribal chiefs said.

The violence in Amran province comes despite President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi warning against a military escalation.

The latest fighting with Houthi rebels, also known as Ansarullah, erupted Sunday, ended an 11-day truce agreed after mediation backed by U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar.

Planes launched at least eight air raids Friday to try to break the rebels’ grip on army positions, some of which are just 15 kilometers from Sanaa, local government officials and tribal chiefs said.

“The fighting has killed dozens on both sides in the past 48 hours,” a tribal source said, without giving a more precise toll.

The army hammered rebel positions in Hamdan, Bani Matar and Iyal Sreih in Amran province with artillery, local officials said.

The air force targeted Bani Maymun and Bani Zubayr, while army convoys carrying reinforcements were seen leaving the capital and heading for Amran.

A government official accused the rebels of trying to take the strategic Jabal al-Dhafir mountain at the northwestern exit of Sanaa in a bid to cut the road connecting the capital to the western coastal city of Hodeida.

Hadi had warned against further escalations in the province in comments reported by state media.

“It is necessary to take a strong stance against continuing the clashes in Amran province,” he was reported as saying.

He said any escalation was “unacceptable” and said the “Houthis should calm the situation and not cross any red lines.”

The Houthis are suspected of trying to broaden their sphere of influence as Yemen is reorganized into six regions, pushing out from their mountain strongholds in the far north to areas closer to Sanaa.

They complain that the country would be divided into rich and poor regions under a federalization plan agreed in February after national talks as part of a political transition.

Houthis have long battled the central government, complaining of marginalization under ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 after a yearlong uprising. In February, they seized areas of Amran province in fighting with tribes that killed more than 150 people.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 21, 2014, on page 12.

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Summary

Yemeni warplanes supported troops battling Shiite Houthi rebels north of Sanaa Friday as fighting intensified, with dozens killed over 48 hours, officials and tribal chiefs said.

Planes launched at least eight air raids Friday to try to break the rebels' grip on army positions, some of which are just 15 kilometers from Sanaa, local government officials and tribal chiefs said.

The army hammered rebel positions in Hamdan, Bani Matar and Iyal Sreih in Amran province with artillery, local officials said.

In February, they seized areas of Amran province in fighting with tribes that killed more than 150 people.


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