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Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Monday, 23 November 2009

'Saudi casualties' in border fight with rebels

Saudi soldiers enforcing buffer zone in Yemen
Saudi Troops have repelled more attacks into their territory from rebels

Yemeni rebels engaged in new cross-border raids into Saudi Arabia have reportedly killed three Saudi soldiers.

A number of Saudis were also wounded in the fighting on Sunday, which has intensified over recent weeks, local media reported.

The rebels claimed the Saudi military crossed the border on Monday and they had captured a number of soldiers.

The Saudi military is trying to enforce a buffer zone around the border, but has denied crossing into Yemen.

"Today, two incursions into Yemen by the Saudi army were repulsed near the Jebel Rumayh region, and a number of aggressors were killed" and others captured, the rebels' statement said.

Port blockade

The rebels, known as Houthis, said the Saudis crossed the border in force with tanks and helicopters.

They said there had been the heaviest bombardment of the region by Saudi forces since entering the conflict earlier in November.

The Saudi and Yemeni government have repeatedly denied that the Saudi military has crossed into Yemeni territory, or carried out bombing raids across the border.

But the Saudi media reported that three soldiers had been killed in the raids, and said the military claimed to have stopped a rebel plan to seize the Yemeni port town of Midi.

The Saudi navy has been blockading the Red Sea port.

Map

The military said the rebels had been chanting slogans that proclaimed they would spend "Ramadan in Midi".

It also said it had arrested more than 900 rebels who had crossed over the border into Saudi Arabia.

The border raids, carried out by "dozens" of rebels were concentrated in the Jebel Rumayh border area, were repelled according to Saudi media.

The Houthis, who are Shia Muslims in a region dominated by Sunnis, pushed through the border and took over a mountainous region of Saudi Arabia on 3 November.

That incursion was wiped out by Saudi airstrikes days after it happened.

The Saudi and Yemeni governments have been bombarding them in an attempt to drive them back from the border.

The Houthis, named after the family name of their leader, are demanding more autonomy for their region and say the Yemeni government discriminates against Shia Muslims.

Leadership killed

They attacked Saudi Arabia after accusing the neighbouring country of providing arms for the Yemeni government to fight them.

The Yemeni government accuses the Houthis of wanting to re-establish Zaydi clerical rule, which ended in 1962.

The Zaydi community are a minority in Yemen, but make up the majority in the north of the country.

The insurgents first took up arms against the government in 2004, after which government forces killed or captured much of the Houthi leadership.

A dispalced Yemeni girl from Saada province carries a young boy on her shoulders at the Mazraq Internally Displaced People"s (IDP) camp in northern Yemen
An estimated 150,000 people have been displaced since 2004

The government launched a fresh offensive in August, which has precipitated a new wave of intense fighting.

Aid agencies say tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

Elsewhere in the country, a Japanese engineer remains in captivity after being kidnapped earlier this month.

Negotiators had hoped the tribesmen holding Takeo Mashimo, 63, would be freed, but disputes between negotiators have delayed his release.

Japanese officials denied that Mr Mashimo had been sold on to an al Qaeda-connected group, and said they were waiting for the Yemeni government to agree to release from jail a member of the tribe holding the engineer.

Earlier in November the Saudi government said al-Qaeda was building a bigger organisation in Yemen, and many of the people on its "most wanted" list were sheltering there.



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