(Updates death toll, adds clashes northwest of Sanaa)
SANAA, March 9 At least 40 people have been
killed in three days of fighting between Shi'ite Muslim rebels
and Sunni tribesmen, sources on both sides said on Sunday, as
sectarian fighting that flared up in October in the north drew
closer to the capital Sanaa.
Fighters loyal to the Shi'ite Houthi tribe, who have
repeatedly fought government forces since 2004, are trying to
tighten their grip on the north as Yemen - home to one of al
Qaeda's most active branches - moves towards a federal system
that gives more power to regional authorities.
Gulf Arab states and the United States are particularly
concerned about violence in the Western-allied country as it
shares a long border with top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and its
coast runs alongside Red Sea and Gulf of Aden shipping lanes.
Fighting on Friday and Saturday in al-Jawf province, about
140 kms (90 miles) north-east of Sanaa, claimed more than 30
lives before government mediators managed to broker a truce.
And clashes on Sunday in Hamdan, an area some 30 km
north-west of Sanaa has killed more than 10, officials on both
sides said. Fighting is still going on, they said.
The Houthis - who control much of the northern Saada
province bordering Saudi Arabia and next to al-Jawf - also blew
up a three-storey Sunni religious education centre in Hamdan on
Sunday, local tribal sources said.
A local official called on government mediators to try to
stop the fighting and warned in a statement carried by Yemeni
media that failure to do so would result in a "bloodbath".
The Houthi fighters arrived in Hamdan from northern Yemen to
safeguard access from their northern stronghold of Saada to
Sanaa, where they have large following, tribal sources said.
They said they had no intention of entering the capital.
Fighting in the north erupted last year when the Houthis
accused Sunni Salafis at the town of Dammaj of recruiting
foreign fighters to prepare an attack. The Salafis said the
foreigners were students who had come to study Islam.
The fighting ended with the Salafis agreeing to leave.
(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Writing by Amena Bakr and Sami
Aboudi; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Louise Ireland)