November 19, 2009 / 4:50 PM / 10 years ago

Yemeni says kills rebel leader, Saudis comb border

(Adds Saudi operations, changes dateline from DUBAI)

SANAA, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Yemeni government troops have killed a leader of Shi’ite rebels and Saudi forces backed by helicopters have attacked the insurgents across the border, state media said on Thursday.

Saudi television said Saudi forces combed the mountainous Jabal Dukhan region, where the Yemeni rebels launched an attack on Saudi border guards earlier this month.

The news programme said an unspecified number of rebels were detained, and it carried footage of Apache helicopters taking part in the operations.

The rebels’ Nov. 3 cross-border raid into the top oil exporter’s territory, has raised concern about the wider impact of instability in Yemen, one of the world’s poorest nations.

Yemen’s state-run September 26 website (www.26sep.net) said rebel leader Ali Alqatwani was killed in the fighting and government forces took control of Almalaheez in the northern province of Saada.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam rejected the Yemeni report.

"If the government has real proof (of what it said occurred) they should allow mass media to enter the field and uncover the truth," Abdel-Salam told Al Arabiya television.

In August, Yemen stepped up its military campaign against the rebels, who belong to the Zaidi Shi’ite Muslim minority, after about five years of sporadic fighting with the group.

The rebels say they suffer religious, economic and social marginalisation and neglect.

In the capital Sanaa, a police official told Reuters that agents arrested two men who had planned to assassinate rabbi Yahya Yusuf Musa, the head of the small Jewish community in the Muslim-dominated country, after he criticised the rebels in a television interview.

The rabbi told Reuters he believed the men, who carried hand guns, may have been sent by Shi’ite rebels.

Only 200 to 300 Jews still live among Yemen’s 23 million Muslims, mostly in the north where they say they have received death threats from the rebels. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, additional reporting by Rania Oteify and Firouz Sedarat in Dubai) (rania.oteify@thomsonreuters.com; +971 4 391 8301; Reuters Messaging: rania.oteify.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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