Suspicion of Saudi, Iran role swirls around Sunni-Shiite clashes in Yemen
SANAA - At least 16 gunmen have been killed in three days of fighting between Shiite Huthi rebels in north Yemen and Sunni Salafist extremists, according to claims by both sides on Tuesday.
"Four of our men were killed and six others wounded in confrontations on Saturday with Salafist gunmen in Al-Qobaaf," east of the Huthi stronghold of Saada, said Huthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam.
Sorur al-Wadii, a spokesman for the Salafists said 12 Sunni militants were killed in three days of fighting, but claimed that his comrades killed 18 Huthi fighters.
He blamed the Huthis for the clashes, saying the killings on "both sides were result of attacks by the Huthis who are trying to expand (their control) in the province of Hajja, Marib and Jawf."
Abdulsalam accused the Sunni gunmen of receiving support from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a bastion of Salafism which is a puritanical approach to Islam.
"We are in total control of the situation," he said, insisting that hostilities were started by a Salafist group "paid by Saudi Arabia."
Dozens of people have been killed in sectarian clashes since last year between the rebels and Salafists trying to tighten their grip on the north, where government control has slackened since a political crisis in Sanaa.
Yemen's mountainous north is a stronghold of the Huthis, who from 2004 fought six wars with central government forces before signing a truce in February 2010. The rebellion claimed thousands of lives.