Sa’ada death toll rises as fighting escalates [Archives:2007/1036/Front Page]

March 26 2007

Mohammed bin Sallam
SA'ADA, March 25 ) Tribal sources assured on Sunday that confrontations are still aflame between the Yemeni army and Al-Houthi loyalists on numerous fronts in Sa'ada governorate, leaving hundreds dead or injured. Further, dozens of homes were destroyed in Dhahian city, which witnessed the fiercest clashes between the two warring sides.

Supported by approximately 3,000 tribesmen from the Hashed and Bakil tribes, the Yemeni army conducted a sweeping offensive last Thursday afternoon on Dhahian, located some 8 km. from the governorate's capital city of Sa'ada. On Friday, the offensive developed into a street war employing all types of weaponry. The number of victims is increasing and threatening a human catastrophe in the area.

The same tribal sources told the Yemen Times that army units and tribesmen drew back Friday evening after facing harsh resistance in many zones they occupied previously.

The bodies of victims from both sides are still amassed in the city's streets and under the destroyed homes, as the fierce fighting has prevented their transport to hospitals. Eighteen army personnel were killed and 96 others injured and rushed to nearby hospitals, while some were transferred to Sana'a. According to sources, Houthi losses remain unknown due to the imposed media blackout.

Al-Ayyam daily reported Saturday that since the war erupted Jan. 17, 416 army soldiers and volunteers have been killed and more than 500 others injured. It added that approximately 136 Houthis have been killed and 12 tanks have been destroyed.

According to officials and medical sources the newspaper quoted, last weekend's confrontations felled more than 150 victims from both sides in Dhahian city and Souq Al-Talh, which witnesses continuous confrontations after Houthis attacked it to reduce pressure on their militants in Dhahian.

A military statement attributed the army's drawing back to giving Houthi leaders one final chance to surrender; otherwise, they will “meet the same fate as Hussein Badraddin Al-Houthi and his father.” It's the second time official sources have spoken of killing Badraddin Al-Houthi, as the chief of Haydan district mentioned the incident in a statement five months ago; however, a source close to Badraddin Al-Houthi denied the information.

Sa'ada Governor Yahya Al-Shami told last Friday that 300 Houthis have been killed and another 200 are captives. He added that 30 Houthi supporters surrendered in Dhahian, noting that others still may seize the opportunity to turn in themselves and their arms. He further assured that Houthi leader Sheikh Yahya Sa'ad Al-Khudhair has been injured, but neither Houthis nor neutral sources have confirmed such news.

The war is continuing on all fronts between the Yemeni army and supporting tribesmen on one hand and Houthi loyalists on the other. The most violent confrontations took place Friday afternoon and evening in Al-Qaithi farms located between Sa'ada and Dhahian cities, leaving hundreds dead or injured.

Further, Al-Salem, Al-Talh, Bani Muath and Gharabah military site occupied by Houthis now witness continuous and fierce attacks. Likewise, Houthi attacks are also constant upon Qahrat Al-Nasr and Kuhlan camps.

Media sources mentioned that the army attack on Al-Talh was as fierce as that upon Dhahian and aimed to release dozens of military and tribesmen blockaded by Houthi snipers in the security department building, while government forces halted attacking Dhahian due to bad weather.

Dozens of Houthis were seen last Friday on Al-Hanajer Mountain in Al-Safara district's Dammaj area. Their presence caused leaders to put soldiers on high alert; however, Dammaj and nearby dignitaries and sheikhs met with military leaders, requesting they leave the matter for locals to defend and guard their areas against Houthis without army interference. Dozens of Dammaj locals carried arms and spread out in the nearby mountains.

Houthi loyalists still are taking positions and many locals expect the coming days to witness wild confrontations between both sides.

Media sources reported that Saqeen district is witnessing clashes from time to time, the last of which occurred last Wednesday in Al-Sha'f and nearby areas, causing dozens of deaths and injuries among military and supporting tribesmen, as well as Houthis.

Clashes took place for several long hours Friday night in various areas of Bani Muath, Al-Saifi, Al-And, Al-Khamarat, Sahar and other areas neighboring Sa'ada city. However, a security source clarified that they simply were searching for Houthi loyalists in different areas. The search resulted in arresting eight Houthi supporters.

Numerous military, armored and foot soldier units reached Sa'ada Friday and Saturday afternoon, their numbers surpassing those that arrived last week. Sources added that more military forces are due to arrive in coming days.

Some observers commented that Houthis have abandoned occupying the mountains and have begun spreading to cities and villages, thus turning the offensive-defensive war into guerrilla warfare.

Fighter planes resumed their participation in the war last Thursday to support army forces after a two-week halt following the crash of two MIG-29 fighters. Sukhoi fighters implemented air raids upon various Houthi sites in Dhahian, destroying dozens of homes, a mosque and a fuel station.

In further news, an official source denied allegations and information reported regarding the Sa'ada events, noting that the number of deaths and injuries among military personnel, as well as guerrilla warfare between Houthis and the Yemeni army, are unauthentic.

The same source further denied any participation of Dhahian citizens against Yemeni army and security forces, declaring, “On the contrary, Dhahian locals are fighting with their brothers in security and army against Houthis.”

Dhahian city is the second largest city in Sa'ada, with approximately 25,000 residents and more than 5,000 houses and civil facilities. Large numbers of residents evacuated the city after a weeklong attack by the Yemeni army using heavy weaponry, including fighters, mortars, tanks and Katyusha missiles fired from Kuhlan Camp in the north, Kuhrat Al-Nas in the south and from the main road.

The city is considered one of Yemen's Islamic science centers and dates back to the second century Hijra. Among its scholars are Abdullah Yahya Al-Sa'adi, Abdulwahab Al-Moyyad and Badraddin Al-Houthi, along with dozens of other well-known scholars and social personalities.

Governor Al-Shami denied the presence of any tribal personnel supporting the Yemeni army in its war against Houthi loyalists, pointing out that a Defense Ministry committee registered new enlistees to cover the shortage in some military units.

Interviewed by private newspaper Al-Wasat in last Wednesday's issue, the governor noted that what's happening in Sa'ada is a guerrilla war, as Houthis are waging offensives in small groups and thus, inflicting more losses upon military personnel.

He further noted that Abdullah Al-Ruzami, whom he considers the Faithful Youth Organization's top man, refuses to answer his telephone; thus, the authority was left with few options.

“If he doesn't accept dialogue or even answer the phone, then how can we dialogue with him?” Al-Shami asked, adding that Al-Ruzami has refused to meet with any individual or sheikh, including mediation committee members.

The Sa'ada governor added, “Although we released his son from prison, I haven't met him or heard from him since I came to Sa'ada. He doesn't accept anything, so how can we deal with such a person?”

Local sources in Sa'ada reveal that the area's Political Security Department has been waging an arrest campaign since last Sunday and 50 citizens have been arrested so far, mostly school headmasters and teachers. The sources explained that the individuals were arrested due to accusations of mobilizing school students to fight with Houthi loyalists against the authorities.