News24

Shelling, gunfire rocks Yemen capital

2011-09-29 12:25

Sanaa - Heavy clashes rocked northern neighbourhoods of Yemen's capital Sanaa at dawn on Thursday, breaking a truce aimed at ending the worst violence since a popular revolt against President Ali Abdullah Saleh began eight months ago.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said three areas in north Sanaa had been hit by heavy shelling and gunfire between government troops and armed followers of a powerful tribal leader, Sadeq al-Ahmar, who supports the opposition.

Many residents fled their homes on Thursday morning as the fighting intensified, shattering three days of calm in the capital after Saleh ordered a ceasefire upon his surprise return to Yemen on Friday.

The truce had followed more than a week of fighting when over 100 people died, raising worries that the country could be dragged closer to civil war.

Saleh had been recuperating in Riyadh for three months after a bomb attack in June and had been pressured by Western diplomats to stay in Saudi Arabia while they struggled to push through a long-stalled power transition plan.

The president has faced the biggest challenge to his 33-year rule in mass protests across the country demanding his overthrow.

Powerful figures once close to Saleh have supported the protests, particularly Ahmar and General Ali Mohsen, who defected to the opposition in March. Sanaa is now carved up into spheres of influence of government troops and pro-opposition forces.

Ahmar's men battled state security forces on Thursday and troops from the elite Republican Guard, which is headed by Saleh's son. It remains unclear how the fighting began.

During the lull politicians and diplomats had scrambled to get back on track derailed negotiations on a plan brokered by Gulf Arab states under which Saleh would stand down.