Dozens killed, homes destroyed in ongoing Sa’ada clashes [Archives:2008/1124/Front Page]

January 28 2008

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Jan. 27 ) Bloody confrontations started weeks ago between the army and Houthi supporters continue to occur, leaving 70 dead and dozens injured on both sides, and destroying citizens' homes and other property, tribal sources from Sa'ada governorate said.

According to a media source, the fighting between government troops and Houthis have escalated and become more vicious in January, specifically in the Haidan district, the main stronghold of Houthis, where the army increased its attacks with heavy weapons and tanks against the Juma'a Bin Fadhel area and other nearby villages in an attempt to regain a strategic position controlled by Houthis since Thursday.

The same source noted the government troops were forced to withdraw from three positions near Dhehyan city, north of the governorate's provincial capital, and the nearby Suq Al-Talh last week as a result of Houthis' sudden guerrilla wars.

“By intensifying their siege and attacks on the military troops in various military positions, the Houthis attempt to control their heavy weapons and ammunition, plus the new positions from which the government pulled out its troops during the second half of last year, according the Qatari Mediation Committee's demand,” the source added. “The army was already evicted from numerous positions in the Haidan's Wald Nawar area after it suffered heavy losses, with many soldiers killed or injured.”

One of the relatives of Houthis' leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi accused the military forces of concentrating their attacks on Juma'a Bani Fadhel with different types of weapons, adding that their assaults targeted citizens' cattle. He continued that most of the Saphia residents evacuated their homes due to continual military strikes against them.

Abdulmalik Al-Houthi warned the government that a fifth outbread in the war-torn governorate will have negative consequences on the country's army and economy, urging the government to prefer dialogue and give the national interest precedence over the interests of war traders and blood shedders.

Fierce confrontations between government troops and Houthis broke out in various Sa'ada areas over the past few weeks, indicating that a fifth war may erupt, particularly as repeated local and Arab mediation efforts over the past four years failed to resolve the crisis.

According to official sources, military and security detachments deployed in different Sa'ada areas were exposed to more than 80 assaults and ambushes by Houthis recently, claiming 70 lives and injuring dozens from both sides.

Other tribal sources reported that Houthis became stronger and better prepared for launching guerrilla wars against military and security soldiers during the most recent truce, which enabled them to reorganize themselves, stockpile supplies and ammunition, dig trenches and obtain different types of arms and explosives. The truce also helped them carry out strong offensives against military troops in several areas.

Local media reported that an army fighter jet was obliged to land near the Haidan district after it was hit by Houthis while transporting ammunition and arms to besieged troops in the area's mountains. They continued that another fighter jet of the same model was also forced to land last Thursday with Sa'ada governor Mutahhar Rashad Al-Masri, Minister of Public Works Omar Al-Kurshimi and many local councilors on board while it was heading for the Qataber-based government complex, west of the governorate. The same sources confirmed that Al-Masri faced minor head injuries and was then transferred to the nearby hospital.

Accusations were exchanged between both sides over the reasons behind the resumption of war in the Haidan district. Some Houthis complained that the 17th Armored Detachment has been blockading the area for one year and preventing food supplies from coming to some villages believed to be loyal to Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, while military sources said that groups of armed Houthis besieged a military detachment in the area.

Some tribal leaders in the governorate attempted many times to bring the conflicting parties together and rescue citizens from repeated lockdowns. Their mediation efforts, however, failed to contain the situation after being rejected by 17th Armored Detachment Commander Abdulaziz Al-Shehari, an alleged Salafi extremist believed to be responsible for the escalating tension in the Haidan district, the Zaidis' stronghold, while other areas are free of any tension.

Members of the Presidential Mediation Committee (PMC), in negotiations with Houthis, warned that the Sa'ada security situation may worsen due to renewed armed clashes between government troops and Houthis following three months of relative quiet. They claimed that the government should help them contain the situation before it worsens.

In a statement to the media, PMC member Yaser Al-Awadhi, who is also a Parliament member, expressed that his committee fears that armed clashes may resume. He warned that a worsening situation may cause the Doha Agreement between the government and Houthis to fail, describing the agreement as suffering “brain death” for being ineffective.

The MP urged the conflicting parties to maintain the relative quiet and stability in the governorate, pointing out that the Qatari mediation team's return to Yemen has become a must in order to help both parties abide by the agreement's terms and cease bloodshed.

On Saturday, the National Defense Council held an emergency meeting in which it discussed many heated issues in the nation, mainly the deteriorating security situation in Sa'ada. The meeting came up with a statement saying that war on terrorism is mandatory for everyone and that the military and security forces must not be lenient toward wrongdoers. “We will firmly confront those plotting to damage the nation and its unity and stability,” the council reacted.

According to the statements, the council took many decisions with the aim of strengthening the defense capacities of security and military forces. “The council decided to send more troops, believed to have successfully completed the required military training, to Sa'ada to crack down on Houthi loyalists,” an official source said. “The Houthis have built a mobile hospital with specialist medical staff from abroad. They also received drugs and medical equipment from Gulf states via the Empty Quarter.”

The Sa'ada most recent clashes coincided with protests and sit-ins nationwide against the government's poor polices, which protestors blame for the country's ailing economy and dire situation.