Over 40 killed in sectarian clashes

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SANA'A, 25 January 2012 (IRIN) - At least 46 people have been killed and dozens injured in clashes between Houthi-led Shia rebels and pro-government Sunni Salafi gunmen in the northwestern Yemeni governorate of Hajjah, assistant head of Hajjah security department Atif Sulaiman told IRIN.

Yemeni independent news website [ ] has also reported on the fighting and deaths which occurred there over the past couple of days.

"Houthi gunmen continue to increase their dominance over several areas and mountaintop positions in the eastern parts of Hajjah in what they say is 'their effort to liberate these areas from mercenaries [members of the pro-government Islamist Islah Party]'," Sulaiman said.

According to Abu Hamza Mohammed al-Sori, a Salafi leader, 40 of the dead are Houthis, and six are from his Salafi group, while more than 20 Salafis were injured, some of them seriously.

Al-Sori said the clashes began in Dhu Holais village, in the eastern part of the governorate, after Houthi fighters attacked a villager during a religious dispute.

"Tribesmen from Hajour District [in the adjacent Sa'dah Governorate, where most Houthis are based] backed residents of the village [Dhu Holais] in their fight against Houthis, inflicting on them heavy losses in equipment and personnel," he said.

Dhaifallah al-Shami, a Houthi leader, said the clashes were still going on. He vowed they would "behead those mercenaries" who killed Houthis. "They don't want to coexist peacefully with us. They receive support from the government and Saudi Arabia to kill us," he told IRIN.

Many members of the Salafi Sect hail from the Damaj area of Sa'dah Governorate, but thousands of others live in Hajjah Governorate. Their leader is Muqpil al-Wadie, based in Sa'dah, and they are staunch supporters of outgoing President Saleh. The Houthis on the other hand have been fighting for more autonomy from central government for a number of years.

Salafis in Damaj released a statement on 24 January saying that Houthis had killed 71 of their people and more than 168 others had been injured over the past two months (not counting the most recent clashes) in the governorates of Sa'dah, Hajjah, Amran and al-Jawf.