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Clashes in Northern Yemen Kill at Least 20


Fighting between rival tribes and rebels in northern Yemen killed at least 20 people overnight. The clashes are part of a new round of fighting between pro-government tribes and Shi'ite Houthi rebels, who have been battling the government intermittently since 2004.

It is the fifth day of bloody clashes between the factions. The fighting appeared to be a fresh outbreak of an old conflict. The rebels have fought six wars since 2004 against government forces and government allies.

More than 50 people have been killed since fighting erupted last weekend. The heaviest fighting appears to be taking place in the region of Harf Sufyan in Amran province. The area is home to the pro-government Bin Aziz tribe.

A tribal representative insisted the Houthi rebels had laid siege to territory controlled by the Aziz. A Houthi rebel spokesman told al Jazeera TV, however, that the fighting involved "only the Houthis and the government." It was not possible to verify the claim.

Both the Houthis and the Yemeni government have accused each other of violating a February truce, which brought an end to the last conflict that started in August 2009. Thousands of civilians were displaced by that conflict, and most of them have been unable to return their homes, which were badly damaged or destroyed. They now live in tent cities, aided by the Yemeni Red Crescent Society and the United Nations.

During a press conferences earlier this month, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said there were "no signs" of a new conflict and that renewed fighting would be unacceptable.

Professor Ahmed Abdul-Karim Saif, who teaches at the University of Sana'a, argues that the latest outbreak of fighting is a sequel to the previous round, which ended in February.

"What's going on is the consequences of the last six wars," said Saif. "Now, what is happening is a war between the Houthis and other tribes. Those tribes, who previously supported the government, are now having a tribal revenge or a tribal feud."

The head of the Aziz tribe, which says it is fighting the Houthis, belongs to Yemen's ruling General People's Congress party. He and fellow pro-government members of parliament are demanding that Yemeni forces intervene against the Houthis.

Professor Saif believes that the latest fighting is probably linked to the scheduled arrival of a Qatari delegation to solidify the truce and rebuild.

"In the next week, a Qatari delegation is coming to the country in order to settle and enhance the truce and to start rebuilding Saada and to compensate those who are dislocated because their houses were destroyed and their farms were burned," said Saif. "And now we need to rehabilitate these people. But, this is impossible without the help of Qatar. Ten days ago, the Emir of Qatar was here in Sana'a and signed an agreement with (President Saleh), based upon the previous Doha agreement."

Elsewhere in Yemen, suspected al-Qaida militants attacked an army patrol in Shabwa province, killing five government soldiers and wounding another.

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