Yemen: Government reinforces army to eradicate Houthis

By Mohammad Bin Sallam

SANA'A, 30 Aug 2009 - Bloody battles between the army and the followers of Abdulmalik Al-Houthi continue in Sa'ada and Amran governorates for the third week in a row.

Informed tribal sources said that the battles are taking place around the clock in most districts of Sa'ada. Government forces mainly use fighter helicopters, bombardiers, and fighter planes MiG-29 and F5 to destroy Houthi strongholds that ground forces cannot approach or penetrate.

"News is inconsistent about the material and human damage on both sides due to a media blackout and a government blockade on communication in Sa'ada and Amran," said the sources.

However, unconfirmed sources say that the death toll amounts to hundreds on both sides and that each of them both attack and retreat in battle. None of them has confirmed victory on the ground, although the government uses excess air force and heavy artillery against the Houthis.

The Supreme Security Committee chaired by President Ali Abdullah Saleh said that the army would continue their operations against the Houthis until they eradicated them.

The state-run Saba News Agency quoted a source in the security committee as saying that "the committee regrets that the Houthis did not respond to the call for peace, security and stability. It confirms that units of military and security forces as well as all citizens of Sa'ada and Amran will undertake their duty to track down the Houthis and open the road to deliver supplies and the needs of citizens in Sa'ada."

The committee demanded that the Houthis announce their commitment to the six conditions that it has offered to stop military operations and achieve peace in Sa'ada.

The conditions stipulated that the Houthis stop military operations, enable all officials of the local authority and security forces to return to the districts they controlled, lift the military checkpoints they set up on public roads, and open all roads leading to Sa'ada and between the districts to enable citizens to move and allow local and international relief committees access to areas where there are internally displaced persons.

Two other conditions stipulate that the Houthis work with government apparatuses to disclose the fate of the six foreigners kidnapped in Sa'ada and those behind their kidnapping and the murder of three of them, as well as release army and security prisoners.

The government sent the Republican Guard supplied with modern Russian-made tanks to fight in Sa'ada against the Houthis. President Saleh already visited Tareq camp where this unit is based late last week. He talked to the soldiers and officers, urging them to joing the army in Sa'ada. He expressed his confidence that the Republican Guard Forces would be able to achieve victory against the Houthis.

"All districts of Sa'ada will be cleared and we will not allow them [the Houthis] to play with security and stability," he said, describing them as a small group outside of the law, and pointing out that other units of the Republican Guard are ready to fight in Sa'ada.

The Ministry of Defense reported on its website that it had "achieved qualitative success against the Houthis and their strongholds in Al-Hasama near the Saudi border.

It said that military and security forces achieved this success "after they developed their attacks and confrontations in the area. The Houthis resort to guerrilla war, setting up ambushes and sniping. The army used new fighting tactics to deal with the Houthis' guerrilla war."

The Ministry of Defense also revealed late last week and early this week that "fighter planes currently target the areas of Al-Anad, Rawnat Al-Maqash, Al-Khafji and Matara near Dhayan, the second largest city in Sa'ada. The army believes that the Houthi leaders are in these areas.

A reliable source at the Ministry of Defense denied allegations circulated by the Houthis that the Saudi air force bombarded Al-Malahidh in Yemen. The source called those allegations baseless and false.

"These false allegations are baseless," the source said. "We are familiar with the falsehoods that these elements and some supporting media outlets abroad circulate. They attempt to involve Saudi Arabia in the current confrontations -conducted by the Yemeni security and military forces and supported by citizens- against these elements to force them to surrender."

The Houthis had confirmed in a statement that Saudi fighter planes launched two attacks on Al-Malahidh in Sa'ada late last week in coordination with the Yemeni army. They said that they have photos that show Saudi military vehicles participating in the war in Sa'ada.

Houthi spokesman Sheikh Saleh Habra told the Yemen Times over phone last Friday evening, "The situation is generally tragic in the governorate. The air force attacks villages, plantations, and water pumps as well as civilians, including women and children."

"The military solution which the government is talking about will not be in its interest, even if the war continues for a long time," said Habra. "They have to come back to the Doha agreement as a practical frame for peace."

Tribesmen prepare to fight

In a related event, thousands of Hashed tribesmen in Amran are preparing to participate in the war against the Houthis. Media sources said that 3,000 fighters - in addition to other fighters mobilized last week- were made ready to participate in fighting against the Houthis in Amran's Harf Sufyan front. Fighters' names were registered and each of them was given YR 20,000 and 100 machine gun bullets.

This comes a few days after President Saleh announced the army will use new tactics in the war against the Houthi rebels.

The Houthis accused the Yemeni authorities of hindering the work of the humanitarian organizations trying to deliver aid to civilians in the northern areas of Sa'ada that have been attacked fiercely by the army for two weeks.

Yahya Al-Houthi, the political officer of the Houthis abroad, said in a statement to television channel Al-'Alam that "the Yemeni authorities reject the delivery of the aid offered by the International Committee Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations to Sa'ada so that the world cannot disclose violations against human rights and suffering of citizens in the area."

On the other hand, Al-Houthi, who is also a member of parliament, denied any attempts of mediation between the Yemeni government and the Houthis.

"Currently, there is no any active mediation between the two sides with the exception of what was agreed upon in Qatar, the Doha agreement, which is considered to be the real reference to solve the crisis," he said.

He denied any coordination between the Houthis and the Southern Movement whose members demand secession of the south. He further confirmed that the Yemeni army has not won back any of the areas under control of the Houthis.

In the same context, the United Nations called the Yemeni authorities and Houthis to find safe passages for civilians under continuation of confrontations between the two sides in the outskirts of Sa'ada.

Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees demanded that safe passages be provided to deliver humanitarian aid to the affected people in Sa'ada under shortage of food supplies.

The UN warned against a humanitarian disaster in the area as people are unable to go out of their houses under decrease of food supplies.