Four people killed in sectarian violence in north Yemen

SANAA Wed Oct 30, 2013 10:20am EDT

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SANAA (Reuters) - At least four people were killed in Yemen on Wednesday when a rocket hit a mosque in the Salafi-controlled northern town of Damaj, a spokesman for the puritanical Sunni Muslim group said, blaming Shi'ite Houthi rebels for the attack.

Damaj lies near Saada, a city near the border with Saudi Arabia about 130 km (80 miles) north of the capital Sanaa.

Last year Salafis battled the Houthi rebels who control Saada along with large swathes of northern Yemen and have fought them intermittently since then.

"The Houthis bombed a mosque with Katyusha rockets during midday prayers," said Abu Ismail al-Hajouri, a Salafi spokesman. "Four Salafis were killed and 14 wounded."

He said the Houthis had blockaded Damaj for several weeks, demanding the departure of hundreds of foreign students who flock to the mountain town for religious education.

Houthi officials could not be reached for comment.

Hajouri said efforts of a committee appointed by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to lift the blockade had failed.

But one committee member, who asked not to be named, said peace efforts were continuing. "We have made an agreement whereby the army will be stationed in the mountains next to Damaj in return for the Houthis' withdrawal," he said.

Saada province is the base for a long-running Houthi rebellion against the government. Saudi Arabia's military intervened in 2009 before a ceasefire took hold the year after.

The province has since fallen openly into Houthi hands with a Houthi-imposed governor.

Some Sunnis fear the Houthis want to revive the 1,000-year Zaydi Imamate, whose rulers claimed descent from the Prophet Mohammad. The imamate ended in a 1962 military coup.

Apart from the Salafi-Houthi conflict, Yemen is struggling with southern secessionists and militants of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has plotted attacks on U.S. airliners and targets in Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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