Sa’ada locals experience catastrophe as fighting remains fierce [Archives:2007/1048/Front Page]

May 7 2007

Mohammed Bin Sallam
SA'ADA, May 6 ) Bloody clashes between the Yemeni army and Houthi loyalists remain fierce in various parts of the restive governorate, Sa'ada tribal sources said, adding that the army has been attempting to control several districts, including Razih, Ghamer, Shadha and Baqem located west of Sa'ada, since last Wednesday.

The same sources clarified that authorities are preventing food supplies from reaching residents in these areas as punishment for accepting the presence of Houthi loyalists, as well as to force them to fight the rebels in a similar way as has happened in other areas.

The siege has complicated the human situation, with locals in besieged areas narrating that the situation is going from bad to worse as they experience difficulty obtaining rice, wheat and fuel for vehicles and water pumps, noting that when they do get fuel, they pay three times the price for it.

Dhahian city and Bani Mu'ath areas have been subjected to a similar siege that's continued since the new Sa'ada governor decided to prevent food supplies and gas cylinders from reaching inhabitants.

Currently, the Yemeni army is positioning in Al-Bisbasa area between Razih and Ghamer districts and fiercely battling Houthi loyalists with the aim of restoring Al-Qal'ah city in central Razih District, which Houthis dominated two weeks ago.

In Al-Safra district, there is fierce fighting in areas surrounding Dammaj, Kahlan and Al-Qahlah Mountains, in addition to sporadic clashes in the areas of Al-Ablah, Al-Sinarah and Al-Abdain. The situation is calm in Dhahian, Al-Saifi and Suq Al-Talh, but on full alert in expectation of the war erupting at any moment, particularly after new troop reinforcements reached those areas.

Al-Ayyam daily newspaper reported that Yemeni government troops deployed in areas of Bani Mu'ath began withdrawing on Saturday morning. It said the withdrawal came after several military units failed to implement their plans aimed at clearing the area of Houthis still deployed there where they launch offensives upon the army from time to time. Houthi offensives have killed several troops and destroyed military equipment.

On the Safra front, the daily newspaper reported on Saturday that military units positioned in Kahlan Camp launched fierce offensives, employing tanks, mortars and missiles on the mountains of Al-'Adhal, Al-Ghail, Al-Qufl and Barash, as well as other mountains surrounding Dammaj area where Houthis are amassed.

On Thursday, fighter jets struck Houthi positions in the Kanaf and Nishour Mountains, while reported that four fighter jets on Wednesday launched strikes on water and electricity projects in Qataber area, as well as its health center, where Houthis offered citizens free medical services after having dominated the district's center earlier.

Military and security authorities continue recruiting young people in its two-part recruitment process, the first of which is supervised by the First Armed Division under Gen. Ali Muhsen Al-Ahmar. The second part is supervised and administered by other military units and receives all citizens and tribesmen loyal to the Yemeni government.

Human suffering

Regarding the situation of innocent citizens, media sources report, “Displaced residents who fled Dhahian city are facing a difficult situation after the war expanded to their shelters in Baqem area at the Saudi border.”

Other sources explain that the majority of Sa'ada districts are experiencing real human catastrophe, as the number of those killed on both sides exceeds 2,000 and just as many injured, while those homes destroyed in Dhahian and Bani Mu'ath number as many as 2,000. Additionally, dozens of farms were burned and irrigation pumps damaged.

Sources mention that nearly 40,000 citizens have fled their homes due to the fighting, which is considered an extension of the two previous wars waged by Shi'ite rebels against the current Yemeni regime.

The first Sa'ada war, led by the slain Hussein Badraddin Al-Houthi, who was killed in September 2004, broke out in June of that year in the Merran Mountains, while the second war, led by elderly cleric Badraddin Al-Houthi, ended in April 2006.

The current Sa'ada war is longer and fiercer than the two previous ones, particularly as it is costing the Yemeni state heavy losses of property, equipment and military personnel.

MP Al-Houthi seeks negotiation

The Emirati Al-Bayyan newspaper reported last Saturday that Yemeni Member of Parliament Yahya Al-Houthi, elder brother of rebellion leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi, has suggested direct negotiation with President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The paper added that the MP, currently residing in Germany, sent a statement, a copy of which was obtained by the newspaper, saying, “I urge President Saleh to immediately cease the war, sit at the dialogue table and, via a mediation committee accepted by both parties, exchange viewpoints and search for radical solutions to the problem.”

In his statement, Al-Houthi conditioned that military and security units must return to their original positions in order to save the blood of Yemenis. “The country's economic situation is the main motive behind the rebellion,” the statement read.

In a statement to an official source, the Defense Ministry web site reported that “Terrorist elements that violate law and order have caused such confrontations. The state has no problem stopping the confrontations if such elements will surrender, hand over their arms to concerned authorities and respect law and order.”

Aid stopped

An aid caravan from the Yemeni Red Crescent Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross was assaulted in Al-Saifi area, 18 kilometers north of Sa'ada city. The caravan consisted of 15 trucks loaded with foodstuffs and other emergency relief for some 560 displaced families in Baqem district.

At the time of the assault, the caravan included a Red Cross delegate and 40 Yemeni Red Crescent volunteers, two of whom were injured and transferred to a Sa'ada hospital for treatment.

The Red Cross has no information about the cause of the assault, but its mission in Yemen is investigating the motives for the incident. “Such an assault exposes humanitarian work to risk. The committee condemns all attacks targeting civilians and aid workers,” the Red Cross said in a statement.

According to International Humanitarian Law, all aid and relief workers must be respected and protected, and all required measures taken to ensure their safety and freedom of movement.

Similarly, quoted local sources as saying that “Yemeni authorities prevented a Saudi aid caravan from crossing the Yemeni border near Baqem district under the pretext that displaced [Sa'ada] civilians don't need any help from Saudi Arabia, alleging that there are no such displaced families.”

According to local sources, the Saudi caravan of medicine, tents, blankets and foodstuffs on more than 18 trucks is the first of its kind since the war erupted in January.

Yemeni and Saudi scholars in Najran released a statement demanding the Saudi government intervene to stop the bloodshed in Sa'ada and warning that Saudi groups may be engaged in the sectarian and ethnic war.