Riyadh (AFP) Nov 6, 2009
Saudi Arabia said on Friday that it had launched air strikes against Yemeni rebels to "neutralise" infiltrators who had crossed the frontier and killed a Saudi border guard.
The air strikes from southern Jizan province were to "neutralise the firing by intruders" and to clear areas where they had encroached on Saudi territory, the government said in a statement on the official SPA news agency.
Earlier, a government advisor said Saudi F-15 and Tornado jets had begun bombing the positions of the Zaidi rebels inside Yemeni territory on Wednesday in response to a rebel attack on a border post a day earlier in which one Saudi was killed and 11 wounded.
"They've been hit hard and it's ongoing," he told AFP on Thursday, adding that the move was taken with the knowledge of the Yemeni government.
The SPA statement did not acknowledge the air strikes or reported shelling inside Yemen territory.
It said government forces had attacked rebel positions "inside Saudi territory" around the 2,000 metre (6,600 foot) Jebel al-Dukhan mountain which straddles the border of Yemen and Saudi Arabia's Jizan province.
But according to the government adviser, the attacks included going after rebel encampments in the area of Saada, a Yemeni provincial capital over the border.
"We took back a small piece of territory and hit their camps around Saada," he said.
The rebels also said that Saudi air force jets had attacked them inside Yemeni territory.
The Saudis said they took action following weeks of disturbances in the region, where Yemeni troops have been engaged in a major offensive against the Zaidi rebels, also known as Huthis after their tribal leaders.
On Tuesday, a group of rebels entered Saudi territory and fired on border guards, killing one and wounding 11 others.
They also burned six vehicles and occupied two villages before being driven out by Saudi forces, the government said.
The rebels accused the Saudis of permitting Yemeni troops to operate from inside Saudi territory.
The Saudi statement on Friday said their attacks were necessary to prevent the rebels from being able to fire into Saudi territory.
Pictures on the local jazannews.org website showed several Saudi village homes heavily damaged by alleged rebel mortar fire.
Late on Thursday, a US official said Washington was "concerned by the expansion of the conflict along the Saudi-Yemeni border."
"It's our view that there can be no long-term military solution to the conflict between the Yemeni government and the rebels," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.
"We call on all parties to the conflict to make every effort to protect civilian populations and limit damage to civilian infrastructure."
An offshoot of Shiite Islam, the Zaidis form the majority community in the far north but are a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen.
Yemeni authorities accuse the rebels of seeking to restore the Zaidi imamate that ruled in Sanaa until its overthrow in a republican coup in 1962 that sparked eight years of civil war. The rebels deny the charge.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh is himself a Zaidi.
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