Last updated: 8 January, 2014

Shiite rebels battling Hashid tribesmen in north Yemen

Shiite rebels and gunmen from the powerful Hashid tribe in northern Yemen agreed a ceasefire on Wednesday after three days of intense clashes, tribal sources and official media said.

Fighting erupted on Monday when Shiite Huthi rebels tried to seize the towns of Wadi Khaywan and Usaimat, strongholds of the Hashid tribe in Amran province, sources said.

But the clashes stopped late on Wednesday after a presidential commission mediated a ceasefire which came into effect at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT), sources in the area told AFP.

The two sides also agreed to the deployment of monitors to ensure the truce is observed, and fighters will start to leave their positions on Thursday morning, Saba state news agency said.

Shiite rebels known as Huthis had launched the attacks in retaliation for the Hashid tribe’s support for hardline Sunni Salafist groups fighting Huthis in Dammaj.

The northern town in the province of Saada has been besieged by the Shiite rebels for months.

According to witnesses, the clashes killed and wounded dozens although AFP was unable to confirm the toll due to the difficulty of accessing the area.

The tribal sources said the fighting had intensified on Wednesday, while the Shiite Huthi Ansarullah (Partisans of God) group said on their website they had taken several Hashid strongholds.

During the battles, a Hashid chief, Hashim al-Ahmar, escaped an attack but his guard and four of his relatives were killed, tribal sources said.

Yemeni President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi sent the mediating commission to the province on Tuesday.

Huthi rebels have been battling the Sanaa government for nearly a decade in Saada but the outbreak of fighting with Sunni militants has deepened the sectarian dimension of the unrest.

Fighting that erupted in late October has centred on a Salafist mosque and Koranic school in Dammaj.

But the conflict has spread in the northern provinces, embroiling Sunni tribes wary of the power of the Huthis, who have repeatedly been accused of receiving support from Iran.

The Huthis, named after their late leader Abdel Malek al-Huthi, are part of the Zaidi Shiite community.

They rose up in 2004 against the government of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, accusing it of marginalising them.

They accuse radical Sunnis in Dammaj of turning the town centre into “a real barracks for thousands of armed foreigners”, a reference to the Dar al-Hadith koranic school, where foreigners study.

On January 6, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had evacuated 34 people wounded in clashes in Dammaj.

The ICRC said it has managed to enter the town six times since the fighting resumed on October 24.