Houthi-Salafi fighting claims 39 lives

Published on 9 February 2012 in News
Mohamed Bin Sallam (author)

Mohamed Bin Sallam


SANA’A, Feb. 8 – An estimated 39 people have been killed and many more injured in the latest round of clashes between Houthis and Salafis in Hajjah.

Fighting broke out in the town – which sits 127km from the capital Sana’a - on Sunday, with local sources claiming that Houthi fighters carried out a surprise attack against Ahim, a town located in Keshir in east Hajjah. Clashes continued from dawn on Sunday February 5 until late Monday night.

Political parties in Sana'a sent a delegation to mediate between the conflicting groups and bring an end to the fighting, which has displaced over 2,000 people since the latest round of fighting broke out, according to the Ministry of Defense.

Sources said the mediation committee would meet with Houthi representatives near the Yemeni-Saudi border in Al-Malahidh, Haradh before meeting with tribal sheikhs and dignitaries from Hajjah. "The committee," explained the sources, "will endeavor to make good efforts to impose a cease-fire in Keshir and Mustaba'a districts, the latter remaining a witness to tension following the last showdown between the Houthis and Salafis last month."

The Ministry of Defense announced on its website last Monday that fighting in the two areas led to the displacement of over two thousand families.

Meanwhile, Helene Kadi, an emergency coordinator with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told IRIN, a humanitarian news and analysis network working with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), that 580 families had been displaced by the fighting. “Over 30 percent of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) have taken shelter in five schools, a worrying trend we have seen with recent displacements in the country… Others have been hosted by families or have no shelter to turn to.”

Local social worker Ali Meshal said the fate of many displaced families remains unknown, while Ali Al-Debbi, an officer at Al-Khair Development and Social Charity, said that about 2,000 IDPs have been located and registered to receive support in Hajjah.

However, several families are now stranded and are “either on their way to safer areas or inside their homes after many villages in Kisher district became inaccessible and the roads unsafe,” said Sheikh Abdullah Dhahban, a member of a recently established tribal mediation committee attempting to persuade the warring parties to lay down their arms.

“Several dead bodies are lying on the mountains… No relatives have come to collect them for burial,” Dhahban told IRIN.

Local witnesses who preferred to remain anonymous said on January 28 that Houthi fighters attempted to tighten their control of a strategic mountaintop position called Abu Dowar, and that fighting had also continued for control of Mishabah Hill, which overlooks Suq Ahim, a local market in Kisher district.

According to a December 2011 report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Hajjah Governorate is home to more than 100,000 IDPs who have been displaced by fighting between government troops and Houthi rebels since June 2004.

Tribal leaders accuse the Houthis - who have been supporters of the anti-government protests - of exploiting the nation's state of lawlessness in order to strengthen their influence in new areas, especially in Hajjah and Al-Mahweet, which sit to the northeast of Sana'a.

Al-Mahweet's governor, Ahmed Ali Mohsen, warned of the dangers of forming a youth resistance movement in a governorate loyal to Houthis, but denied at the same time any role for the ruling party (the General Peoples Congress) in supporting the Houthis, who have waged six wars against government forces.

Concerning armed conflict between Houthis and Salafis in Sa'ada, a tribal source said that over 100 Arabs from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Algeria and Libya, as well as German and British adherents to the Salafi doctrine, have arrived in Sa'ada's Kitaf district over the past few days to battle with Houthi fighters.

In a phone call with the Yemen Times, Mohammed Al-Wadi’ee, a Salafi media officer, denied this claim by saying that it is impossible for such a large number of people to enter Sa'ada with all the checkpoints which have been set up by Houthis positioned around Sa'ada. "No one can enter Sa'ada unless they have been inspected thoroughly by Houthis spread out between  Harf Sufyan and Sa'ada itself."

The tribal source told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Syasa that the "mercenary" fighters came to Yemen officially as tourists by way of Sana'a airport and that elements of the Salafi sect transported them to Kitaf. From there, the source claimed that the men were armed with different weapons before joining the 5,000-strong force composed of Salafi fighters from various governorates.