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Yemen rebels say Saudi air strikes kill 54 civilians

by Staff Writers
Dubai (AFP) Dec 20, 2009
A spokesman for Shiite rebels in Yemen on Sunday accused Saudi forces of killing 54 civilians in air strikes against a border town between the two Arab countries.

There was no independent confirmation of the claim made by the spokesman, who identified himself only as Ali, in a telephone call to AFP in Dubai.

"There has been a massacre committed by the Saudis in the district of Razeh in the (northern) Saada province, this morning (Sunday)," the spokesman said.

"The town of Al-Nadheer was targeted by air strikes and 54 civilians, including women and children, were killed," he added.

"The raids have destroyed five houses ... (whose inhabitants were) unarmed civilians," the spokesman said.

He charged that Saudi forces were advancing across the borders toward the village of Zawa, also in the Saada region, adding that the Saudi army had fired "more than 200 shells" on Sunday.

Saudi forces have been fighting the Zaidi Shiite rebels, who are also known as Huthis, since November 3, after a group of them killed a Saudi border guard and occupied two small Saudi villages.

Riyadh says its operations have been limited to its own territory.

The Yemeni government, meanwhile, launched an all-out offensive against the rebels on August 11 in a bid to end a five-year rebellion, which it charges is backed by Iran despite Tehran's denials.

The defence ministry said on Sunday that rebel leader Abdul Malak al-Huthi had been seriously wounded in fighting with government forces, but the rebels' spokesman dismissed the report as "baseless."

The ministry-linked website said Huthi was hit in an air strike and forced to leave Matra, southeast of Saada town, after delegating a relative named Youssef Madani to head the rebels.

Huthi has left to Haydan, 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the west, it added.

Local tribal sources also told AFP that Huthi was seriously wounded two weeks ago, and has handed command to an uncle, Abdul Karim al-Huthi, and Madani -- husband of a daughter of Hussein al-Huthi, the late rebel leader killed in 2004.

But the rebels' spokesman insisted the revolt's leader was fine. "The authorities are trying to cover up for their failure in the field by spreading such rumours," he said.

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