At least 24 people were killed in north Yemen overnight when Shiite Houthi rebels shelled sites held by Sunni Islamist Salafi sect in a fresh sectarian conflict that hit the unrest-torn country, a provincial security official said Sunday.
"The shelling targeted a Sunni-run Islamic school and its neighboring areas in the town of Damaj in northern Houthi-held restive province of Saada, killing 24 people, including three foreign students, two Indonesians and one American national," the official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
"The conflict is triggered by sectarian disputes, as Sunni sect is seeking to confront the continuing attacks to defend itself," the official said, adding that tribal chieftains were pushing efforts to force a truce.
Since protest movement erupted in Yemen in late January to call for an end to the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Houthi rebels are working out to expand their control over the northern provinces of Saada, Amran and Hajja.
Opposition media accused Houthi rebels of allying with Saleh's regime to put down the 10-month-old protests.
An interior ministry official told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that "opposition tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar have hired hundreds of armed Houthi-led Shiite rebels and brought them to the capital Sanaa."
On Aug. 26, 2010, the Yemeni government and the Shiite group signed an agreement in Doha to cement a fragile cease-fire in north Yemen to end the sporadic battles since 2004, but the rebels ' clashes with local tribesmen and Sunni supporters are still rocking the region.
Elsewhere in the southern province of Taiz, witnesses said that government troops earlier Sunday shelled the downtown city, where tens of thousands of protesters have been camping out for months to press demands for prosecuting Saleh "for criminals against them. "
An official medic at the protesters' camp told Xinhua that "the shelling killed two protesters and injured four others." President Saleh arrived in Sanaa Saturday evening after a three-day visit in Saudi Arabia, where he signed a Gulf-brokered deal to transfer power, according to the state Saba news agency.
Saleh's return was announced hours after Yemeni Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi issued a decree, declaring Feb. 21, 2012 as the date for the early presidential elections in line with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative Saleh signed Wednesday.
The GCC deal aimed to meet the Yemenis' aspirations and end 10 months of turmoil that almost brought the impoverished Arab state to the verge of civil war and economic collapse.