RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday a security officer was killed and 11 others wounded in an attack by unidentified gunmen in an area near the Yemeni border, which Yemeni rebels said they had seized in a cross-border raid.
The Shi’ite Muslim rebels accuse Saudi Arabia of backing Yemeni government forces in the conflict, although Sanaa has denied any Saudi involvement.
The rebels said they had taken “complete control yesterday evening of Jabal al-Dukhan ... after attacks during which the aggressor was eliminated,” according to a statement posted on their website late on Tuesday.
Earlier this week the rebels accused Saudi Arabia of allowing Yemen’s armed forces to launch attacks from its territory and warned they would take action if this continued.
On Wednesday, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the gunmen opened fire on Tuesday morning on Saudi patrols in Jabal al-Dukhan after infiltrating the area from across the border.
“The infiltrators used various weapons to fire at (Saudi) border guards,” SPA said.
This is the first time Riyadh has announced such an attack near the Yemen border since a long-simmering conflict between the Yemeni government and rebels intensified in August.
“We advise the Saudi regime to stay neutral and not allow the Yemeni army to use its land for hostilities against us. We will be forced to confront any act of aggression from any direction used by the Yemeni forces,” the rebels said in a statement on their website on Monday.
The rebels, who say they are fighting political, economic and religious marginalization, have published footage of seized weaponry belonging to Saudi Arabia to back up their claims.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, and its top ally the United States fear the conflict in Yemen’s north and a separatist movement in the south will enable al Qaeda to establish a stronger foothold in Yemen.
The attack took place in an area far from key oil facilities.
Yemen sees Iran’s hand behind the rebellion, an accusation Tehran denies. Iran and the Shi’ite group Hezbollah in Lebanon have called on Saleh to end the fighting through talks.
Arab countries allied to the United States, such as predominantly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Egypt, fear Shi’ite power Iran could gain influence in Yemen through the rebels.
The Yemeni army launched Operation Scorched Earth in August with the aim of quashing the rebellion, with hundreds killed. Around 85 people were killed in an army raid on an improvised refugee camp last month. Aid groups say around 150,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which first broke out in 2004.
Media and aid groups have been given little access to the war zone, making it almost impossible to corroborate conflicting accounts.
Reporting by Inal Ersan and Raissa Kasolowsky, Writing by Souhail Karam; Editing by Charles Dick