More causalities of Sa’ada war [Archives:2007/1109/Local News]

December 6 2007

By: Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, Dec. 5 ) Three citizens were killed and another injured in the Haidan district of Sa'ada due to confrontations with Seventh Division infantries on Tuesday. Tanks and armored vehicles from the division struck Al-Thalawth village in the district, destroying ten occupied homes and the village mosque.

Armed clashes between government troops and Houthi supporters have become a daily phenomenon, locals in Sa'ada governorate claim, adding that some tribal groups have joined different sides in the conflict.

Three Houthis were ambushed Tuesday in Dhehian district's Al-Ja'amala area. Fellowmen of Sheikh Salem Derham, who was shot dead last week, are reported to be behind the ambush. In the same area, a small tribal group backing the army fired at a bus with heavy machine guns, leaving one passenger dead.

Since the shootout between army and Houthi supporters erupted nearly three months ago, Sa'ada and Amran have experienced unprecedented standoffs, including assassination attempts and arrest campaigns against Houthi loyalists. Army units in both governorates have set up ambushes against tribesmen with suspected Houthi connections, killing three, injuring six and detaining dozens.

Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, leader of the Sa'ada rebels, said that his allies in both governorates are suffering from flagrant crimes, adding that Sa'ada citizens will no longer tolerate any arrest campaigns or attempts to assassinate his followers. A source close to Al-Houthi denied media reports that the man's supporters carried out offensives on army units deployed in various areas.

Military forces, affiliated with the Kahlan and Katfa divisions, raided Al Salah village in Nishour after assaulting it with tanks and heavy machine guns last week, tribal and media sources said last Thursday. They went on to say that the raiding soldiers evicted locals from their homes and separated the men and women, under the pretext of inspecting the homes for weapons and Houthi militants.

The soldiers claimed that the villagers opened fire on the army, and having found neither militants nor weapons, the soldiers bombed three houses belonging to Al-Houthi supporters.

Local outrage

The Al Salah incident and arrest of a household head and one of his sons fuelled rage and tension among the village inhabitants in particular and Sa'ada citizens in general. They consider assaults on the village and searching its inhabitants barbaric conduct and an attempt to humiliate Sa'ada citizens under the guise of cracking down on rebels.

“Sheikh Jaber and his sons are highly respected and have high social status in their village. They have never been involved in past fighting between the army and Houthis. But what the soldiers did is a barbaric act, reminding people of the brutalities the village suffered during the Othmani occupation,” one of Abdulmalik Al-Houthi's relatives said.

A military campaign against the village and other nearby hamlets was launched in retaliation for the killing of five soldiers in the area more than one week ago. According to local sources, army units deployed in Sa'ada have been reshuffled and new security checkpoints set up on roads leading to some of Sa'ada villages, as part of a calculated plan to wage a fifth war in the restive governorate.

Soldiers at checkpoints searched and taunted by-passers, accusing them of being loyal to Al-Houthi, eyewitnesses told media, adding that over the past ten days, many peasants were shot dead on their farms by soldiers over charges of having connections with Al-Houthi, as part of the alleged plot to fuel another war in the province. According to locals, Askar Zuail, Manager of Commander Ali Muhsen Al-Ahmar's Office in Sa'ada, gave a sermon in one of the area's mosques which the army gained control of after forcing the Houthis from the area, in which he described those supporting Abdulmalik Al-Houthi as 'disbelievers'.

“Kill all the Shiite Houthi supporters for the sake of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed, not for the sake of President Ali Abdullah Saleh,” the preacher said, demonstrating defiance of the agreed-upon ceasefire.

Human situation in the restive governorate

There are approximately 7,500 displaced Sa'ada citizens near the Saudi border, of whom most are living in tents, while others were given shelters by host families after their homes were destroyed in the fourth war between government troops and Houthi militants.

“The human situation in Sa'ada is deteriorating over time and displaced citizens are suffering from deadly diseases, including respiratory track pains, anemia and malnutrition,” Islamic Relief-Yemen said in a statement.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sana'a, the war-ravaged governorate suffers from polluted and unhealthy water after the water system was damaged during the war.

International relief organizations operating in Sa'ada fear that the human situation in Sa'ada may go from bad to worse as clashes renew and the conflicting parties refuse to obey the ceasefire agreement, which was reached with help from the Qatari government last June. The Houthis complain that the government is not committed to the agreement, nor does it allow displaced citizens to return home. They accused the relevant authorities of being indifferent toward reconstructing citizens' damaged property in conformity with the Qatar-sponsored agreement.

The government has given no reaction to the human situation in Sa'ada, nor did it provide information about renewed clashes in different areas of the province. In the meantime, observers of the situation expressed high concern that a fifth war may break out, thereby destroying any remaining infrastructure in the war-torn governorate. Observers unanimously agree that there have been no clear motives behind the four Sa'ada wars since the first erupted in June 2004.

Regarding circulated rumors that the Qatari mediation failed to end the crisis, informed sources said that Qatar pulled back its representatives in the mediation committee because it differed with the Yemeni government over the mechanism of distributing compensations to citizens whose property was damaged in the repeated wars.