Middle East

At least 340 killed in Yemen's week-long fighting

A Hauthi Shiite rebel stands on a tank at the compound of the army's First Armored Division, after they took it overt, in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

SANAA, Yemen: A Shiite militia that overran the Yemeni capital sized tanks and armored vehicles from military headquarters on Monday and raided the home of a long-time archenemy, a powerful army general and Sunni tribal leader, as officials reported that a week of fierce fighting in the city has killed at least 340 people.

The heavily armed Hawthi fighters occupied the house of Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and set up checkpoints across the capital, Sanaa, as the general and his allies fled and went into hiding.

The move against al-Ahmar consolidated the Hawthis' grip over Sanaa, now fully under rebel control. The militia had earlier seized a series of strategic installations and key state buildings in Sanaa, though it later handed most of them over to military police.

It was the latest development in the Hawthi blitz, which has plunged volatile Yemen into more turmoil.

Sanaa's northern and western districts, the scenes of fierce battles, were damaged by relentless shelling, their buildings pockmarked by gunfire and bodies of slain fighters left rotting in the streets.

The fighting was initially reported to have killed 140 people but health ministry official Ali Sayria told state-run news agency SABA that 200 bodies were retrieved on Monday from the streets where ambulances could not reach them during the clashes.

Resident Ahmed al-Hamdani said he saw Red Crescent staff carrying away bodies from the street he lives on. He said some "were torn, with no limbs," a testimony to the intensity of the fighting.

The U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, succeeded in mediating a deal on Sunday and the fighting between the Shiite Hawthis and pro-Islamist Sunni militiamen subsequently died down.

Sanaa was mostly quiet on Monday but thousands of Hawthi fighters - including many youths - were out on the streets, the only visible force except military police guarding state institutions.

Thousands of residents had already fled the city, while those who stayed hunkered down in their homes, fearful of new clashes, looting and robberies. Long lines of cars loaded with suitcases and food were seen leaving the capital for the countryside.

The Hawthis signed the U.N.-brokered deal on Sunday, an agreement that gave them unprecedented influence in the presidency and over the Cabinet. It calls for an immediate cease-fire and the formation of a technocratic government within a month after consultations with all political parties.

According to the deal, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is to appoint key advisers - from both the ranks of the Hawthis and the pro-separatist factions in the south.

However, the Hawthis abstained from signing a "security appendix" to the deal that stipulates that they withdraw from Sanaa and other northern cities and surrender their weapons to the government.

Hawthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam said the rebels plan a mass celebration in Sanaa later on Monday night and that the Hawthi spiritual leader, Abdel-Malek al-Hawthi, will broadcast a speech, likely from the group's stronghold in the city Saada, northern Yemen.

The UN-brokered agreement sets Yemen on a new political path, one in which longtime power centers such as the Islah party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood group, and its key ally - the Al-Ahmar tribe - as well as loyal generals are forced out of the power-sharing scheme.

The Hawthis claim they are not seeking power but revolting against a corrupt government. Critics believe the group is carrying out a power grab and that it is heavily supported by Iran.

But even as the U.N. deal was signed on Sunday, the Hawthis captured the headquarters of the army's 1st Armored Division, an elite outfit led by al-Ahmar, who has carried out several military campaigns against the Hawthis in the north.

On Monday, Hawthi fighters seized a large amount of weapons from the army headquarters and were seen transporting it out of Sanaa, possibly to their northern strongholds. Dozens of tanks and armored vehicles were seen being taken out of the barracks.

Yemen, one of the Arab world's poorest nations, is facing multiple challenges. An al-Qaida branch in the south poses a constant threat as it tries to impose control over cities and towns. Washington considers the Yemeni branch to be the world's most dangerous arm of al-Qaida and has helped support Yemeni government offensives against it with drone strikes.

The Hawthis waged a six-year insurgency that officially ended in 2010. The following year, an Arab Spring-inspired uprising forced then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down in 2012 as part of a U.S.-backed deal giving him immunity from prosecution.

Al-Ahmar, a powerful Sunni tribal leader and a former confidant of Saleh's, switched sides during the uprising and was instrumental in ousting the president.

He led a succession of six local wars against the Hawthis, from 2004 until 2010, with battles taking place mainly in the rebels' northern heartland. The fighting left the Hawthis with deep enmity for the general and his allied Sunni Islamists.





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