Soldiers and Shiite rebels die in clashes

A Yemeni man sits on the rubble as people search for survivors in houses destroyed by an overnight Saudi air strike. Picture: Getty

A Yemeni man sits on the rubble as people search for survivors in houses destroyed by an overnight Saudi air strike. Picture: Getty

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Saudi Arabia said three of its soldiers and “dozens” of Yemen’s Shiite rebels were killed in overnight clashes after the rebels carried out a cross border attack.

The attack on Thursday was the first major incursion into Saudi Arabia by the Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, since a Saudi-led coalition of mostly Sunni Arab nations began carrying out airstrikes inside Yemen more than a month ago.

The kingdom’s Defence Ministry did not say how far into the area of Najran the rebels ­advanced.

The Saudi-led offensive in Yemen aims to diminish the military and fighting capabilities of the Iran-allied Shiite rebels, who have overrun the capital, Sanaa, and are advancing deep into southern Yemen.

The Shiite rebels, whose stronghold is in Saada in northern Yemen, are allied with Yemeni military and security forces loyal to ousted President Ali ­Abdullah Saleh.

Overnight, Saudi airstrikes in Sanaa targeted the positions of the rebels and allied forces, killing at least 14 civilians, including ten women and children, officials and witnesses said yesterday. One airstrike targeted a house of a Houthi rebel commander in a Sanaa district called Saawan, demolishing at least six houses.

Along the Saudi border, a group of Houthi fighters attacked “border posts and control points” in the southern Saudi region of Najran on Thursday night, the kingdom’s Defence Ministry said.

Saudi forces, backed by fighter jets, repelled the attack, the statement said.

“Dozens of the militiamen were killed. Three soldiers of the ground troops were martyred,” according to the statement.

At least 11 Saudi soldiers have been killed in similar border clashes with the Houthis since the kingdom launched airstrikes against the rebels inside Yemen on 26 March.

The kingdom’s security forces said on 11 April that more than 500 Houthi rebels have been killed in border clashes, with most taking place along the area of Najran. The kingdom has offered the families of each slain soldier 1 million Saudi riyals, or about £175,000, to compensate for their loss.

Saudi Arabia has boosted its troop numbers along the roughly 800-mile long border with Yemen since the airstrikes began. The forces frequently fire at suspected rebel positions with both cannon and mortar fire.

The area across the border is considered a Houthi stronghold and its fighters managed to take over several Saudi villages in the southern border region of Jizan in 2009, during the kingdom’s last war with the rebels.

Jizan is about 125 miles east of Najran and some 10,000 tribesmen from Jizan have volunteered to stand at the border alongside the Saudi soldiers, commanders in the area say.

Last week, the commander of forces in Najran, Brigadier General Abdullah al-Shehri, said the border situation was stable. The war has not included a ground force operation in Yemen, but al-Shehri said his forces were prepared for any eventuality.

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