Army fails to beat Houthis, Libyan president hints at mediation [Archives:2007/1037/Front Page]

March 29 2007

By: Mohammed bin Sallam
SANA'A, March 28 ) Tribal sources said Wednesday that bloody clashes between the Yemeni army and Houthi loyalists are continuing on various fronts in Sa'ada. Army forces retreated from Dhahian city, a Houthi stronghold, after facing severe resistance there. Meanwhile, material and human losses are increasing. reported informed sources in Sa'ada as saying, “Army forces and hundreds of tribal volunteers managed to penetrate many streets of Dhahian after deadly confrontations with Houthi loyalists waged since last Tuesday afternoon.”

Eyewitnesses declared, “The Yemeni army is employing a new method in its war on Dhahian, as many units are allowed to enter the city for some time and then withdraw and resume other attacks. Dozens of tanks and armored vehicles are positioned on all streets and outlets leading to Dhahian in order to prevent any infiltration to and from the city.”

Sa'ada Governor Yahya Al-Shami assured that government forces are laying siege around Dhahian city to prevent losses among women and children.

“Governorate, security and military leaders decided to lay siege around the city in order to save citizens' lives, especially women and children. Many citizens fled the city to nearby areas, while others moved to their relatives' homes in safer locations,” Al-Shami explained.

The governor further noted that 12 Houthis surrendered to army forces this week, adding that, “Authorities have provided food and shelter and equipped temporary camps to receive those displaced residents with no relatives outside Dhahian city.”

Confrontations in Dhahian, which accommodates 25,000 inhabitants in 5,000 homes, have destroyed more than 60 homes and civil facilities. Further, a historic mosque also was destroyed, while water, electricity and other basic services have been cut for two weeks.

Army personnel and volunteers had vacated some Dhahian streets by the middle of this week after four days of fierce fighting, leaving dozens killed or injured on both sides.

Additionally, some areas of Bani Salem in Kittaf district witnessed confrontations on Monday evening and Tuesday, but the results are unclear to date.

Al-Madani killing unclear

Meanwhile, news about killing senior Houthi leader Al-Madani was contradicted. Some sources reported that Yemeni soldiers captured him, while others said the army killed him Tuesday while attacking a Houthi position in Bani Salem's Braash; however, official sources neither confirmed nor denied such reports.

Al-Najjar killing sparks anger

In related news, more than 3,000 citizens of Kharf, a sub-group of Hashed tribe, last Saturday expressed their anger at the way their relative, Muqbil Al-Najjar, was killed at the hands of some army personnel last Thursday. During his funeral in his home area of Kharf, more than 3,000 citizens expressed their resentment and anger over his death, noting that he was killed via deception and betrayal.

Al-Najjar was killed last Thursday when his house was destroyed by army forces using tank shells while attempting to infiltrate Dhahian on the pretext of searching for Houthi loyalists. Al-Najjar and several others from his area were living in Dhahian because they operate fruit farms and businesses in Sa'ada.

Press reports mentioned that hundreds of Hashed tribesmen are volunteering with army and Sulfi groups to fight against Houthis. Such volunteers mainly are from Uther, Al-Osimat and Habour Dhulimah.

However, Kharf tribal leaders have refused to fight, alleging that the authority didn't do justice to those who participated in the first and second Sa'ada wars. The tribe's sons complain about the authority's negligence, particularly toward those who were killed or injured and in need of medical attention.

One observer commented on Al-Najjar's death, saying, “The way Al-Najjar was killed in Dhahian proves the futility of war and how it affects the national peace, whereby the killer and the killed are from one tribe and the same family. This is the case with civil war.”

Students killed in Dammaj

The identity of one victim in a Houthi attack targeting a checkpoint near the Dammaj Center for Hadith and Jurisprudence located in Al-Safara district's Dammaj area south of Sa'ada remains unknown.

Local sources mentioned the killing of two students, one a French student of Algerian origin, and injuring another French student, while the identity of the second victim hasn't been determined. The same sources added that the French student was buried by his friends in Dammaj Cemetery, while the injured party still is being treated at Al-Salam Hospital in Sa'ada.

Supported by Saudi Arabia, the Dammaj Center was established in the 1980s to teach Sulfi doctrine. The center accommodated students from more than 30 countries before the Sept. 11, 2001 events; however, that number has diminished over the past few years.

Al-Qaddafi hints at mediation

In other Houthi news, Libyan President Moammar Al-Qaddafi pointed out that President Ali Abdullah Saleh requested he invite Member of Parliament Yahya Al-Houthi, who currently is living in Germany, to Libya and mediate between him and President Saleh to stop the war in Sa'ada.

In a live interview with Al-Jazeera satellite channel, Al-Qaddafi recounted, “President Saleh telephoned me and said, 'Yahya Al-Houthi is abroad. I beg you to call him and invite him to Libya to end this war.' Before this call, we didn't know anything about Al-Houthi.”

He added that he summoned the Yemeni MP to Libya, telling him Yemen wanted to end the war in Sa'ada, and Al-Houthi indicated his readiness to do so, but with certain conditions. He maintained that Saleh accepted some conditions, such as releasing detainees, but didn't accept others. Thus, the war ended and Houthis were happy, Al-Qaddafi noted, referring to the second Sa'ada war.

The Libyan president noted that he was surprised at the war's resumption due to the intervention of foreign parties. He denied any tension in Yemeni-Libyan relations as evidenced by the recent visit of Libya's foreign minister to Yemen, as well as a telephone call he had with President Saleh.

He went on to allege that it is the hired newspapers that are claiming his nation's involvement in the Sa'ada events, not the Yemeni government or President Saleh, further asserting that Libya has no interest in a remote Yemeni area.

“It's unreasonable. We don't have any relation with Zaidi doctrine and we have no interest in Yemen's war,” Al-Qaddafi assured.

He further revealed that Yahya Al-Houthi sent him a new letter requesting he mediate to end the war, adding that he sent the letter to President Saleh and hinted that he would intervene again if Saleh accepts.

In an interview three weeks ago with Al-Hiwar satellite channel, Yahya Al-Houthi referenced Al-Qaddafi's remarks; however, official media denied such information, harshly attacking him and accusing Al-Hiwar of being a hired channel.

From the very beginning of the war, official media have persisted in alleging Libyan involvement in what's happening in Sa'ada, accusing Al-Qaddafi of providing military, financial and political support to Houthis. At its first meeting, the Yemeni National Security Council pointed out that it will reconsider relations with any nation supporting Houthis, hinting at Libya and Iran.