SANAA Jan 12 At least four fighters from
a Sunni Salafi Islamist group were killed in heavy clashes in
northern Yemen on Thursday with Shi'ite rebel fighters, a
spokesman for the Islamist group said.
Both sides blamed each other for the bloodshed on the border
with the world's biggest oil exporter and main regional U.S.
ally, Saudi Arabia.
The clashes were the latest flareup in one of the internal
conflicts threatening a power transfer deal signed in November
last year to pull back Yemen from the brink of civil war.
Surour al-Wadi'i, a spokesman for the Salafis -- Sunnis who
espouse a puritanical creed with many followers in Saudi Arabia
-- said Houthi fighters attacked early on Thursday in an area
near the city of Saada north of the capital Sanaa.
The Salafis beat back the Houthis with automatic weapons and
"four brothers were martyred", Wadi'i said.
A statement issued by the Shi'ite group's leader, Abdelmalek
al-Houthi, accused the Salafis of waging "unjustified
aggression" against residents of the area of Ahem, saying
attacks began on Wednesday when one person was killed in the
Dayfallah al-Shami, a member of the Houthis' political
leadership council, said there were casualties in fighting with
Salafis in the area on Thursday but gave no details.
OPPONENTS OF SALEH GIVEN DEADLINE
The fighting came as a military committee responsible for
demilitarising the capital gave armed opponents and backers of
outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh 48 hours to begin
withdrawing after months of street fighting.
The presence of armed elements in Sanaa, defying an earlier
deadline to leave their positions by the end of December,
underlines the difficulty of restoring normality to the country,
which was paralysed for most of 2011 by protests against Saleh.
The peace accord must also pass another hurdle involving
getting parliament to pass a draft law granting Saleh and his
family immunity from prosecution for any action committed during
Saleh's 33 years in office.
An immunity bill has been approved by the cabinet, despite
street protests against granting Saleh immunity. But some
ministers continue to express opposition to giving Saleh
immunity, hampering the convening of parliament.
U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar, who helped broker the power
transfer deal, drafted by the six-member Gulf Cooperation
Council, in November returned to Yemen on Thursday to follow up
on implementation of the accord, Yemeni officials said.
Analysts say Saleh was expected to leave Yemen for treatment
abroad after parliament approves the immunity bill, allowing
Yemenis to start preparations for presidential elections set for
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, writing by Sami Aboudi)