The rebels, called Houthis, are followers of the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam, and the Saudis believe both that they have ties to Shiite-dominated Iran and have Al Qaeda members within their ranks.
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Saudi Arabia said Saturday it has cleared a mountain foothold used by Yemeni rebels along the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border, in what appeared to be part of a larger battle against Al Qaeda’s expansion.
The rebels, called Houthis, are followers of the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam, and the Saudis believe both that they have ties to Shiite-dominated Iran and have Al Qaeda members within their ranks. Saudi Arabia fears they may destabilize Yemen, posing a major security threat to the world’s largest oil exporter, reports Reuters.
The fighting near Jabal al Dood began earlier this month after the rebels announced they had killed two Saudi border guards. Last week, nine Saudi soldiers were taken prisoner, apparently by Houthis. The Jeddah-based Arab News said Sunday they had reportedly turned up and were receiving medical treatment inside Yemen, but couldn’t confirm those reports.
A recent statement of the Ministry of Defense and Aviation said King Abdullah, the supreme commander, directed all military sectors to clean every inch of Saudi land of infiltrators without touching a single meter of the Yemeni territory.
The ministry denied media reports that the Saudi armed forces were “creeping” their way toward Yemen and said such heinous reports were circulated by parties hostile to both Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The Houthis have been battling the Yemeni government of Ali Abdullah Saleh since 2004, “citing political, economic and religious marginalization,” reports Al Jazeera. The Houthis also accuse Saudi Arabia of allowing the Yemeni military to launch strikes against the rebels from within its territory, a claim denied by both nations, according to the BBC.
The Yemeni government launched a new offensive against the rebels in August 2009, the BBC says, leading to a wave of intense fighting. Reuters reports the Yemeni military tried to rout Houthi rebels near Saada, Yemen, leading up to the weekend.
Yemeni forces and Shiite rebels waged pitched battles on the outskirts of Saada on Saturday after regular troops thwarted an attempt by the insurgents to enter the northern city, a Yemeni military official said.
The Army stopped the rebel advance on Friday and fighting was still taking place in the suburbs of the capital of the rebels’ mountainous stronghold province, the official told Reuters.
A Saudi official said Saudi planes carried out renewed strikes in the Jabal Dukhan area on Friday, where rebels carried out a cross-border incursion earlier this month in which two Saudi border guards were killed. …
The rebels said on their website Saudi air raids in an area outside Saada killed an unspecified number of civilians.
According to PRESS TV of Iran, which denies any involvement with the Houthis, the rebels accuse Riyadh and the Yemeni government itself of funding Al Qaeda and Wahhabi extremists to help quell their resistance – countering the kingdom’s claims.
The United Nations says over 175,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in northern Yemen, PRESS TV reports.