Last updated: 2 November, 2013

Yemen Sunni Islamists and Shiite rebels cease fire

Shiite rebels and Sunni Islamist fighters have agreed to a ceasefire in a northern Yemeni town but the Red Cross is still being denied access, military and aid officials said Saturday.

Clashes that killed at least 11 people ended at 5:00 pm (14:00 GMT) on Friday, the official said according to the defence ministry news website

Troops have been deployed in areas evacuated by the two sides, he added.

The fighting with mortar and rocket fire had been concentrated on the Mazraa mosque and a Koranic school held by the Islamists in the village of Dammaj in Saada province and surrounded by Zaidi rebels, also known as Huthis.

But the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday that its teams were still being denied access to Dammaj.

“We deplore the lack of access to Dammaj, where the number of wounded people in need of evacuation is growing,” said Cedric Schweizer, the ICRC director in Sanaa.

“We are particularly concerned about people who need emergency assistance. We appeal for a halt to the violence and for immediate and unconditional access, so that we can evacuate the wounded and deliver much-needed medical assistance,” Schweizer said in a statement.

Tribal sources put the death toll at least 11, but the Sunnis have said the number on their side killed in the shelling was much higher.

On Friday, the ICRC urged an immediate ceasefire to allow ambulances into the area.

“Every minute we lose waiting to get into Dammaj and the surrounding area is a potential life lost,” said Schweizer.

Dammaj, where the school for Sunni preachers has operated since the 1980s, has been the scene of frequent clashes between Sunni Islamists and the Huthis, for whom Saada is a stronghold.

Thousands of Sunni Salafist Islamists demonstrated in Sanaa on Saturday in support of their co-religionists.

A statement by Ansarullah (Partisans of God), the official name for the Huthi rebels, has charged that Sunni extremists had “transformed the centre of Dammaj into a real barracks for thousands of armed foreigners.”

Last month, at least 42 people were killed in 10 days of clashes in Amran province, also in northern Yemen, and in the central Ibb region.

The Huthis, named after their late leader Abdel Malek al-Huthi, rose up in 2004 against the government of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, accusing it of marginalising them politically and economically.