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Yemen Rebels Accuse Saudi Forces of Killing 54 People


Saudi soldiers during visit by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to Jizan Province, where Saudi forces have been battling Yemeni militants along the frontier (File)

Amid an ongoing insurgency in Saada Province in northern Yemen, rebel forces are accusing neighboring Saudi Arabia of killing 54 civilians in airstrikes.

Saudi television has shown government forces firing machine guns and artillery at Houthi rebel positions along the border with Yemen. The TV reported Saudi troops were "continuing to repulse attacks by invaders in the Jebel Dukan region," adding that "heavy casualties" were inflicted on the rebels.

The Zaidi shi'ite rebels, loyal to leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, accuse Saudi Arabia of launching airstrikes, Sunday, that killed 54 civilians in northern Yemen. The rebels claim five houses were destroyed in raids over the town of Reza and that casualties include women and children.

Saudi Arabia admitted Saudi fighter jets were used to pound rebel positions, late Sunday, and but did not comment on the reports of civilian casualties.

Editor-in-chief Hakim Almasmari, of the Yemen Post newspaper, says civilian casualties are mounting in what he says are almost daily air raids:

"It happens on a daily basis ... The casualties are usually innocent civilians. Remember, these are the families of Houthi loyalists. So, I do not believe it is an accident ... Right now, everyone that lives in Saada is a suspect, because the Houthi followers are all from Saada," he said.

Rabab al-Rifai of the International Committee of the Red Cross says no one from her organization has been able to confirm the reports of heavy civilian casualties, but says the humanitarian situation is deteriorating:

"We have heard reports that tens of civilians have been killed or injured in recent attacks. Unfortunately, the ICRC has not been able to verify this information, first hand. Basically, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating. There are lots of needs. We have five camps ... In these camps are 13,000 IDPs ... People still do not feel safe. They are moving, some for the second or third time, from one area to the other in search of a safe haven," said al-Rifai.

The Yemeni and Saudi Arabia governments complain Iran is involved in supporting the Houthi rebels, and that is something that worries many in the Gulf. Hakim Almasmari says that Iran is probably not arming the rebels, but is supporting them in other ways:

"The Houthi followers have told us they are supported by Iran financially, not by weapons. They are getting the money and then they buy their own weapons," he said.

He also argues Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah are helping to train the rebels in nearby Eritrea. Iran, he says, keeps its navy in the area to shuttle the rebels back and forth between Yemen and Eritrea, and "not to battle piracy, as it claims."