Yemeni troops battle northern rebels short distance from capital in clash that kills dozens

By Ahmed Al-haj, AP
Monday, July 26, 2010

Yemen’s army battles rebels in north; dozens dead

SAN’A, Yemen — Yemeni soldiers battled Shiite rebels a short distance from the capital on Monday in clashes that killed dozens, a tribal leader said.

A cease-fire unraveled in June, re-igniting a six-year conflict that spilled across the border last year by drawing in the Saudi military. The new fighting threatens to siphon Yemeni military resources away from a separate battle against the country’s al-Qaida offshoot.

The U.S. and other countries have pressured Yemen to resolve the rebellion so that it can concentrate on fighting the al-Qaida franchise, which is suspected of masterminding the failed attempt to bomb an airliner in the U.S. on Christmas Day.

Fighting in Yemen’s northern provinces killed at least 53 people last week and rebels have seized several towns.

Monday’s battles took place in the town of al-Zalaa, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of the capital.

The tribal leader described a heavy deployment of government troops, tanks and armored vehicles but said they failed to push the rebels back.

He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

Northern tribesmen complaining of neglect and sectarian discrimination first took up arms in 1994. The conflict flared anew last year and threatened to engulf the region before a cease-fire was reached in February.

In cooperation with Yemen’s government, Saudi forces unleashed airstrikes and artillery barrages on the rebels after two Saudi soldiers were killed in a cross-border raid in November. At least 133 Saudi soldiers died in the fighting, which has displaced more than a quarter million people.

Al-Qaida militants in Yemen’s south have also intensified attacks against Yemeni security forces, including an ambush late Sunday on an army patrol that killed six soldiers, a security official said.

It was the second major attack this week on local security forces in the restive southern province of Shabwa.

Many foreign oil companies are located in the area.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Shabwa is believed to be a hide-out for al-Qaida militants, including the U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who the U.S. says was part of the failed Christmas Day airliner attack.

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