SANAA (AFP) – Yemeni security forces and supporters of a slain rebel preacher were again involved in deadly clashes in a resurgence of violence that has claimed 33 lives in the space of 24 hours.
As troops sealed off villages in the rebel Saada province near the border with Saudi Arabia, clashes for the first time extended southward to the region of Amran where fighters ambushed an army convoy, killing three soldiers.
Army soldiers cordoned off villages in Saada province on the lookout for followers of radical rebel Zaidi preacher Sheikh Hussein Badr Eddin al-Huthi, who was killed by Yemeni armed forces in September last year.
A total of 23 rebels and 10 members of the army and security forces have been killed since the violence erupted early Monday, in the most serious confrontations since Huthi was declared dead, tribal sources told AFP.
They also said 51 rebel fighters were detained by the authorities.
There was no official confirmation of the casualties or the arrests. The official news agency SABA reported late Monday that the army clashes with “subversive elements affiliated” to Huthi’s movement killed at least 15 people, including seven members of the army and security forces.
Early Tuesday, shots and artillery could be heard from the northwestern mountains where soldiers backed by tanks and armored vehicles cordoned off villages where rebels are suspected to be holed up and raided suspect houses.
Army soldiers sealed the villages of Kutaf, Dahyan and Nushur in Saada province where they were also carrying out raids on suspected houses, said the tribal sources.
In Amran province, south of Saada, Huthi followers ambushed early Tuesday a convoy of Yemeni regular army forces, they said.
Three soldiers were killed in the clash in Amran, about 80 kilometers north of the capital Sanaa, according to the sources, which could not confirm casualties among the rebels.
On March 19, three prominent members of Huthi’s Faithful Youth movement were killed and two others wounded by police which suffered three wounded in the first clash since authorities announced Huthi’s death September 10, 2004.
Huthi’s three-month armed rebellion in Saada’s mountainous regions near the Saudi borders was crushed by the army in an offensive that left more than 400 people dead.
Authorities accused Huthi of seeking to foment sectarian strife, but he had claimed he was targeted because of his anti-US stance.
Yemeni security forces said the renewed clashes were led by the preacher’s father, Badr Eddin al-Huthi, after he “launched treacherous and cowardly attacks” on several security outposts in the province.
On Monday, Saba news agency said Badr Eddin al-Huthi had “unexpectedly left Sanaa (where he went following his son’s death last September) after the state had granted him safety for him to live as a good citizen.”
“He reneged on all his pledges to the state and went to (Saada)… where he gathered the subversive elements and incited them to attack police and security outposts in Saada province in a bid to stir up strife in the area,” it said.
But tribal sources said the violence was sparked by an attempt by security forces to strip Huthi’s followers of their heavy weapons.
Huti’s father is a prominent figure of the Zaidis, a moderate Shiite Muslim sect dominant in northwest Yemen but in the minority in the mainly Sunni country. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh is a Zaidi.