SANAA - Yemen’s air force bombed Shiite Muslim fighters north of the capital city of Sanaa Saturday in fighting that caused “a large number of casualties,” local officials said, after a recent truce between the insurgents and government forces collapsed.
The fighting in northern Yemen, which has taken on a sectarian tone, is further destabilizing a country struggling to overcome many problems, including a secessionist movement in its restive south and the nationwide spread of al-Qaida insurgency.
Houthi Shiite fighters, officially known as Ansarullah, blamed army units linked to the rival Sunni-Muslim Islah party for breaking the June 23 cease-fire on Friday when government troops advanced on an area in al-Jouf province.
A Yemeni government official said the army's advance on the town of al-Safra in the province north east of Sanaa was prompted by the failure of Houthi fighters to vacate positions in the area in compliance with the cease-fire.
Tribal sources in al-Jouf province, which is partly controlled by the Shi'ite Houthi rebels, said at least 18 people – 10 Houthis, five tribesmen and three soldiers – were killed in clashes Friday.
The fighting later expanded to the adjacent Omran province, where the Yemeni air force flew sorties and bombed Houthi positions around the provincial capital early on Saturday.
Local government officials gave no precise casualty figures from the fighting, which included airstrikes. Instead, one cited "a large number of casualties."
In southeastern Yemen, state news agency Saba reported that one soldier had been killed and four wounded on Saturday in a "terrorist'' attack on a security compound in the Hajar area of Hadramout province. The agency gave no further details.
The cease-fire had largely held, with few reports of violations.
Impoverished U.S. ally in turmoil
U.S.-allied Yemen, an impoverished country of 25 million that shares a long border with the world's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, has been in turmoil since 2011, when mass protests forced veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
At least 200 people have been killed this year in battles pitting the Houthis, named after their leader’s tribe, against the government and Sunni tribal allies.
Officials say the Houthis, who have fought short but devastating wars with government forces since 2004, are getting weapons from Iran.
The Houthis deny this, saying they seek autonomy and less U.S. interference in Yemen's affairs.