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Houthis and tribesmen battle in central Yemen, at least 15 dead

CAIRO: At least 15 people were killed in heavy fighting between Houthi fighters and tribesmen in the oil-producing Marib province in central Yemen, tribal and medical sources said on Tuesday, as Saudi-led air strikes against the Iran-allied militia continued.

Yemeni Vice President Khaled Bahah on Monday had called on the Houthis to heed a U.N. Security Council demand for an end to fighting. The conflict has pushed Yemen into a humanitarian “catastrophe”, according to the Red Cross.

The Houthis occupied the capital Sanaa in September last year, demanding political change. Talks with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi soured quickly and he announced his resignation, effectively leaving the reins of the central government in the Houthi’s hands.

Rattled by what they see as expanding Iranian influence in the Arabian Peninsula, a coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia launched air strikes in late March. Riyadh announced a halt to its campaign last week, but fighting has intensified again since Sunday.

Residents said there were heavy clashes overnight in Marib province east of Sanaa, in the city of Taiz in central Yemen, and in the southern port city of Aden.

At least 15 people were killed in the district of Sirwah and around Marib city, the sources said, as tribesmen allied with Hadi tried to stop Houthis and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from advancing on the provincial capital.

The Houthis say their advance on Marib is to flush out militants belonging to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most active branches of the Sunni Muslim militant network and an enemy of the Shi’ite Houthis.

BAHAH

Speaking in Saudi Arabia on Monday, Bahah said Yemenis should seek a negotiated way out of the crisis based on a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in April.

The Houthis have already rejected the resolution, which imposes an arms embargo on them and on Saleh’s supporters, calls on them to lay down their weapons and to leave Yemen’s cities.

“The brothers in Ansarullah are called on to fear God … and to stop their war on the cities,” Bahah said, according to Yemeni news website www.voice-yemen.com. Ansarullah is the group’s official name.

Bahah is popular among many of Yemen’s feuding parties, and his appointment earlier this month created hope that a solution could be reached.

In addition to bread and medical supplies running short, telecommunications could be cut within days due to fuel shortages, state-run news agency Saba reported, quoting the director of the telecommunications authority.

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