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AFP

UN envoy presses Yemen rebel
leader for new talks with govt

SAADA - The UN envoy to Yemen landed in the Shiite rebel stronghold of Saada Wednesday for talks with leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi in a fresh effort to end the country's latest political crisis.

 

Jamal Benomar's unexpected trip comes after failure to hammer out a deal between President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and rebels seeking greater political clout, whose supporters have camped out across and around the capital for weeks.

 

The talks "aim to restart negotiations that have stalled" in Sanaa, a rebel source told AFP.

 

His visit comes as tensions are running high in Shamlan, on the capital's northern outskirts, where clashes between the Shiite Huthi rebels and pro-government tribesmen have raged since Monday.

 

Several explosions rocked the area overnight, according to residents, adding that rebels bombed several buildings belonging to the Sunni Al-Islah (Reform) party.

 

Among them were the residence of a local leader and a Sunni religious school, residents said.

 

Meanwhile, the army has reinforced its positions around Shamlan to prevent rebels advancing towards the capital's center, only seven kilometers (four miles) away.

 

Troops set up new checkpoints near the site of the clashes, according to tribal sources and residents.

 

At least 26 people, including 16 tribal fighters and 10 rebels have been killed since Tuesday, according to tribal sources.

 

AFP could not verify the toll from independent sources.

 

The clashes started after the rebels set up a new protest camp Monday close to an army barracks in Hamdan, where Shamlan is located.

 

It was the eighth armed protest camp the rebels have set up in the Sanaa region since they launched their campaign on August 18.

 

The rebels had earlier rejected an overture by Hadi in which he offered to name a new premier and reduced a controversial hike in fuel prices—two of the core demands by the rebels.

 

The Zaidis, to whom the Huthi rebels belong, are a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen but are the majority community in the northern highlands, including the Sanaa region.

 

Analysts say they are trying to establish themselves as the top political force in those regions.

Among them were the residence of a local leader and a Sunni religious school.