Fierce fighting in south Yemen after Houthi rebels blow up tribal leader's home

Clashes in Dalea province have been going on since Saturday

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2017 file photo, tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels chant slogans during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters into battlefronts to fight pro-government forces, in Sanaa, Yemen. Moroccan government officials said Thursday Feb. 7, 2019 that Morocco has stopped taking part in military action with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s war, and has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
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Houthi rebels clashed with government forces in Yemen's Dalea province for a third day on Monday in a battle triggered by the insurgents blowing up the home of a local leader.

The rebels stormed Al Makla village in Al Hasha district on Saturday and destroyed the house of  tribal sheikh AbdulJaleel Al Hothaiyfi for allegedly collaborating with the Saudi-led coalition supporting the government, according to a journalist working for the Yemeni army in the area.

"The Houthis forced the family of Sheikh Al Hothaiyfi to flee the house, blew it up with TNT and burnt his car," Ali Al Asmar told The National.

He said it was the first time Houthis had entered the area since the civil war began in 2014 with the Iran-backed rebels' seizure of the capital Sanaa. Al Hasha district lies in the north of Dalea, a southern province about 250 kilometres from Sanaa, and borders the rebel-held province of Ibb.

Facing resistance from the residents, the rebels remained in the village and posted fighters on the hills around it.

Armed tribesmen from the area then threw a cordon around the village on Sunday to trap the rebels, Saed Abdullah, a resident of the area, told The National.

“They started clashing with them, preventing any rebel reinforcements from arriving from Ibb," Mr Abdullah said.

"This pushed the Houthis to blow up four other residences of civilians who stood up to them and joined the force surrounding the village," he said.

The fighting escalated on Sunday night with the arrival of government troops from central Dalea to support the tribesmen and of rebel reinforcements from Dammar province north of Ibb, according to Abdulwahab Al Mashriqi, a district official in Al Hasha.

Mr Al Mashriqi posted a statement on a local news website on Sunday night saying that the two sides were engaged in fierce battles and calling on the Saudi-led coalition to launch air strikes to support the troops and tribal fighters and prevent more rebel reinforcements from arriving.

The troops and the tribesmen were holding their positions but had suffered losses of weapons and equipment, Mr Al Mashriq said. At least three tribal fighters were killed on Sunday night, he said.

Meanwhile, fresh fighting broke out between the Houthis and the Hajoor tribe in the northern province of Hajjah on Sunday. The coalition launched 15 air strikes at rebel reinforcements sent to the Mandala and Abaisa areas of Kushar district where the clashes took place, according to Abdullah Al Hajoori, a journalist in the area.

The Shiite Houthis and the Salafi Hajoori tribe have a historic enmity and have clashed repeatedly in recent months, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the province. According to a report by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs released at the end of January, at least 30 civilians were killed and 52 injured by artillery shells and air strikes in the preceding month, while at least 300 families were displaced over a span of three weeks.

Of the 31 districts in the province, 28 are categorised as being in a state of emergency, with the state of five pockets of population described by the UN as catastrophic.