SANAA (Reuters) - Three people were killed on Sunday when Shi’ite Houthi rebels shelled a school in a northern Yemeni town where sectarian fighting has killed more than 100 people, a spokesman for a hardline Sunni Muslim group said.
Houthi fighters control much of the northerly Saada province, on the border with Saudi Arabia, which has been their base for a long-running rebellion against the government, and the sectarian rivalry in the town of Damaj is now hampering reconciliation efforts.
Government-brokered ceasefires have failed to stop the fighting, which broke out last month when Shi’ite Houthis accused Salafist Sunnis of recruiting thousands of foreign fighters to prepare to attack them. The toll of more than 100 dead does not include Houthis, who have not revealed their casualty figures.
The Salafis say the foreigners are religious students who travel from abroad to study Islamic theology at the Dar al-Hadith academy, established in the 1980s.
“The Houthis have shelled a school in Damaj. Three people were killed and 12 were wounded,” said Surour al-Wadi’i, a Salafi spokesman. “Five others have been killed by shelling by the Houthis since yesterday evening.”
A spokesman for the Houthis, Ali al-Bakhity, would not confirm whether the rebels had fired shells on Sunday but denied that any attacks had targeted civilian areas.
“There is no shelling on schools or civilian areas. If there is shelling, then it is concentrated on the mountains, at barricades of armed foreigners,” said Bakhity, who is the spokesman for the Ansarullah group at national reconciliation talks.
Yemen home to one of al Qaeda’s most active wings, and the United States providesd aid and military support for the Yemeni government as part of its global fight against Islamist militants.
Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Kevin Liffey