Clashes renew as Houthis’ lockdown of troops ends [Archives:2008/1173/Front Page]

July 17 2008

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, July 16 ) Bloody confrontations between the Yemeni army and Houthi gunmen renewed in several Sa'ada districts following two days of relative calm resulting from an agreement reached between the two warring sides, tribal sources from the governorate said Wednesday, noting that the agreement unblocked the Sana'a-Sa'ada Highway and ended a two-month Houthi lockdown on Yemeni troops.

The sources said bloody clashes currently are occurring in Sihar, Haidan, Saqain, Dhahian and Mirran districts, adding that the Yemeni army is employing various types of heavy weaponry, including fighter jets and helicopters that have terribly devastated area residents' homes and farmlands.

They continued, maintaining that the Yemeni army has exploited the truce that Houthis and senior government leaders signed this past Saturday to attack the areas of Al-Humaidan, Al-Mazroua and Al-Saifi, located between Sa'ada and Dhahian cities, in a never-ending attempt to take control of Dhahian city.

Houthis released a statement Monday, alleging that that Yemeni army had launched two major offensives on Al-Humaidan area, one Sunday evening and the other Monday afternoon. However, what the statement termed “militias” prevented the advancing troops from approaching the area, adding that several military soldiers and commanders were killed or injured in the clashes.

In Mirran district, the army launched an offensive against strategic Houthi positions Monday morning using fighter jets and tanks. Independent sources note that the truce that both sides signed in Amran governorate's Harf Sifyan district sought to allow both sides to bury their dead, take their injured to hospitals and transport food supplies to besieged villages and military brigades.

However, Houthis accuse the authority of violating the ceasefire agreement by using ambulances in Mirran to transport weapons and ammunition to its blockaded troops.

Despite ongoing clashes in Mirran and Dhahian, the truce did help unblock the Sana'a-Sa'ada Highway.

Several media outlets previously reported that President Ali Abdullah Saleh spoke with Houthi field leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi by telephone, convincing him to agree on partial and temporary terms that include unblocking the Sana'a-Sa'ada Highway and releasing besieged troops. However, a government source denies that Saleh has communicated with Al-Houthi.

Alleged human rights abuses in Bani Hushaish

The Yemeni Socialist Party-affiliated reports that the Yemeni army has committed human rights abuses against several residents of Bani Hushaish, located east of Sana'a. It quoted local sources as saying that the army attacked Beit Al-Aghrabi village with heavy weaponry, although Houthi gunmen withdrew from the village and stopped fighting, according to a tribal mediation.

“The army destroyed residents' homes and property before raiding the village. [Army personnel] evicted residents, including women and children, to a nearby school,” Bani Hushaish sources say, adding that the soldiers beat, badmouthed and insulted citizens.

According to the same sources, female soldiers from counterterrorism units deployed in the area arrested numerous women from Beit Al-Aghrabi village on suspicion of supporting Houthi gunmen. They further noted that the Yemeni army has arrested the majority of the village's male residents under age 50.

In a statement published by state-run Al-Thawrah daily newspaper on Wednesday, an official government source in Bani Hushaish denied the authenticity of the report by, clarifying that the Yemeni army is searching for wanted fugitives and that no human rights abuses have been committed.

Various sources allege that several army commanders, tribal leaders and regional forces have intervened to foil the mediation efforts that played a notable role in ending the war, unblocking the Sana'a-Sa'ada Highway, releasing besieged troops and transporting food supplies to the war-affected governorate.

Regarding the proposed “Popular Army” to be comprised of 27,000 recruits under the command of the Hashid tribe to fight Houthis, tribal sources affirm that the establishment of this army is underway.

In its most recent issue, Al-Ahale independent weekly newspaper blamed the Saudi Special Committee, chaired by Emir Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, for establishing and funding what it described as the “Janjawid Army,” hinting at the prospective popular army.

The weekly continued, reporting that an unnamed Saudi committee member recently visited Yemen to meet with tribal leaders, encouraging them to back the government in its war against Houthis.

Worries over potential sectarian conflict

A religious forum including Salafi members and tribesmen was held Tuesday, chaired by Sheikh Abdulmajid Al-Zindani, rector of Al-Iman Islamist University and also on the U.S. terror list. At the forum, participants agreed to contribute to the gathering of tribesmen under the name of a “Popular Army” to fight against Houthis, who belong to the Zaidi Islamic sect.

Reliable sources report that Salafi leaders promised to gather thousands of well-trained jihadists, most of whom are called “Yemeni Afghans,” to back the Yemeni army in its fight against Zaidi Houthis in Sa'ada and other areas.

The Yemeni government's intent to form a religious committee in collaboration with Salafis to fight against Zaidi Houthis has raised sharp controversy among all of those concerned, who predict that doing so will create a new crisis, as well as sectarian and political conflicts that may harm Yemen's social fabric.

Various social figures believe that establishing such a committee with religious powers constitutes a threat to personal and civil freedoms, noting that it also creates obstacles to Yemen's emergency democracy.