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27 killed as Shia rebels attack army in north Yemen

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SANAA: At least 27 people were killed when Yemeni Shia Houthi rebels launched attacks on an army position in northern Yemen on Tuesday, military officials said.

The attack targeted an army position in the western outskirts of the northern province of Amran, some 50 km north of the capital Sanaa. The attack sparked hours-long gunfight between the soldiers and the Shiite rebels. At least 20 soldiers and seven armed rebels were killed, several military officials and medics said. The Armored 310 Brigade’s commander Mohammed al-Wali was among the dead, said the officials. Dozens from both sides were wounded.

Hundreds of the militants, most of them coming from the Shiite rebel northern stronghold province of Saada, were seen besieging the armored 310 Brigade in Al-Jumaimah Mountain, which overlooks Amran city. According to the residents, the gunshots were still heard and the Shiite rebels spread over the city of Amran and closed its main entrances. Officials at the defense ministry said the government army presence in Amran has been decreased as hundreds of soldiers of the armored 310 Brigade in Amran, as well as the Al-Majd Brigade in southern part of Saada, have been deployed early this month to join the three-week government offensive in southern Yemeni provinces against al-Qaida militants.

They said the government already appointed tribal mediation committee to try to stop the Shiite rebel offensive against the army posts in the area. Last month the Shiite rebels overran Juhaif Mountain and Hamdan area, some 20 km northwest of Sanaa, after week-long battles with resident tribesmen and soldiers. More than 20 people were killed during the fight. The Shia Houthi group has seized several towns in northern provinces of Hajja, al-Jaw and Amran after deadly fighting with the army and Sunni tribal residents over the past months. Sectarian conflicts have been expanding in Yemen’s northern provinces since the eruption of protests against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011.

Houthi rebels and their rival Sunnis have participated in a UN- backed national dialogue which concluded in January. The Yemeni parties agreed to reshuffle the cabinet, draft a new constitution, form a federal state and prepare for presidential election. The sectarian conflicts intensified last October, as clashes in Dammaj in Saada province left more than 850 people dead. The government brokered a ceasefire agreement in January between the rival groups and evacuated around 15,000 Sunni families from Dammaj town. Shia rebels have controlled the northern Saada province since they signed a ceasefire deal with the government in August 2010, ending a six-year intermittent war.

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