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Yemen - Saada clashes

Military operation in northern Yemen kills 19 rebels

Article published on the 2010-01-12 Latest update 2010-01-12 11:31 TU

The Yemeni anti-terrorism force takes part in a mock house raid near Sanaa 9 January 2010(Photo: Reuters)

The Yemeni anti-terrorism force takes part in a mock house raid near Sanaa 9 January 2010
(Photo: Reuters)

Yemeni security forces swept through the old city of Saada in the north of the country Monday, rooting out rebels from the Houthi tribe, according to a statement on the Interior Ministry’s website. It said 19 people were killed, and 25 were arrested, though it did not indicate if there were civilian causalities. A military source told the AFP news agency that eight soldiers were killed as well.

The sweep was the final stage of an operation to clear out what the defence ministry’s online newspaper called “terrorist sleeper cells”.

The Yemeni government has been fighting an uprising in the Shia-muslim area since 2004, when rebels started complaining of social, economic and religious marginalization in the mostly Sunni-Muslim country. The operation has been dubbed “Blow to the Head”

"The 'Blow to the Head' operation to cleanse the old city of Saada of nests of Houthis that had occupied houses of a number of citizens in the city achieved all of its goals of annihilating these destructive dens of Houthi rebel gangs," the ministry said on its website.

The rebels said on their website that the army was using bulldozers to "destroy" property in Monday’s sweep.

"The army is undertaking to destroy the city," the statement said. "It is using bulldozers to destroy houses, mosques and historical buildings."

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia joined the Yemenis in fighting Houthi rebellion in November, after accusing rebels of occupying two villages inside its territory and killing a border guard.

Aid organisations say more than 150,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said in an interview on Sunday that the government was open to dialogue with rebels willing to lay down their arms.

"We are prepared to deal with anyone who renounces violence and terrorism," he said, but a rebel spokesperson on Monday responded by saying “stop firing, then talk about dialogue”.

There has been rising concern in the United States in neighbouring countries that al Qaeda will take advantage of the instability in Yemen to gain a foothold in the region.

The Nigerian man who was foiled in his plan to bomb a US airliner on Christmas Eve said he had received training from al Qaeda in Yemen.