SANA'A // There are signs of a breakthrough in the fight between al Houthi Shiite rebels and government troops in Yemen's northern province of Sa'ada, the peace broker committee said. "There are promising signs of an agreement between the two sides to [bring an] end to hostilities. We hope there will be a breakthrough soon," said Faris Mana'a, the head of the presidential committee overseeing peace negotiations in Sa'ada.
Mr Mana'a, however, said a sticking point remained over the clarification of the kidnapped foreigners, whose fates remained unknown and whose abduction the government blamed on the rebels, an accusation they deny. "The al Houthis are particularly reserved about [this] condition; it can be postponed and clarified," said Mr Mana'a, implying the disagreement would not prevent an agreement from being reached.
Mr Mana'a also said there was further disagreement over the implementation of the six conditions set by the government to halt its military operation and resume peace talks. "Negotiations are going on to resume peace talks between the two sides. We are doing our best," he added. After two days of an all-out operation against the rebels, Yemen's top security committee announced on Thursday six conditions for a truce with the Shiite rebels.
Irregular clashes have been reported from time to time since Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, announced the end of the war in July 2008. This new wave of fighting came after local officials said the rebels had taken control of more of Sa'ada province from government forces over the past few weeks. They said on Tuesday the rebels seized key army posts near Al Malahidh crossing, 20km south of the Saudi border.
The conditions for the truce include a rebel withdrawal from all districts, the removal of checkpoints they have set up in some places and the clarification of the fate of kidnapped foreigners. Nine foreigners were kidnapped in Sa'ada in June. The bodies of three were found three days later, while the rest are still missing. The conditions also require rebels to return captured military and civilian equipment, hand over those behind the kidnapping and refrain from intervening in the state's local affairs.
The situation has been relatively calm in Sa'ada since Friday. However, intermittent clashes were reported to have taken place yesterday in some districts and military planes were seen flying over Sa'ada, according to local sources. Dozens have reportedly been killed and injured in this sixth round of fighting, which started in 2004. Both the government and the rebels continued to claim that the other was targeting civilians.
"In a dangerous development which demonstrates the targeting of civilians and displaced people, the MiG planes attacked Rughafa, which is a refugee camp located north of Dhahyan town," said a press statement issued by the rebels and was disseminated yesterday via e-mail. The statement also accused the military planes of pounding Dhahyan with phosphorous bombs, though without casualties. "Peace is still our option at the moment. But the government is mistaken when it thinks that the war will make us bow to its blackmailing conditions. We do warn the government that we have not yet responded to its attacks and that our response will be beyond [what is] expected," the statement said.
However, the defence ministry refuted the rebels' allegations of its targeting civilians and using phosphorous bombs. "These are groundless accusations and the military forces ... do not have such kinds of bombs," said a ministry press statement released yesterday. It said the military was targeting "sabotage posts and checkpoints set by the rebels [that have been] used to attack and panic citizens, blowing up their houses and looting their property as well as for attacking the army personnel".
The government, which said that 17,000 families were displaced in this new wave of fighting, denied accusations that it shelled a market in Haidan district State-owned radio in Iran reported that the Saudi airforce is assisting the Yemeni army in pounding the rebels, which the ministry of defence denied. "Such information is baseless and lacks credibility and objectivity. The Yemeni army has all the capacity to defend the country and its peace and stability," a source at the defence ministry was quoted saying. "We feel sorry to find Tehran official radio station propagates such misleading and false information." email@example.com