Rapidly escalating street battles between opponents of Yemen’s regime and forces loyal to its embattled president spread to the home districts of senior government figures and other highly sensitive areas of the capital on Tuesday. A third day of fighting, including a mortar attack on unarmed protesters, killed nine people, medical officials said.
The latest death took to at least 60 the number of people killed since Sunday, as anti-regime protesters step up their campaign to topple President Ali Abdullah Saleh and a key military unit supporting them is drawn deeper into fighting. Saleh’s forces have hit back with attacks by rooftop snipers and shelling of protest encampments.
In Geneva, the United Nations said Tuesday that four children were killed by live ammunition during the unrest on Sunday and Monday. Marixie Mercado, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s fund, also said that 18 minors were injured. Mercado told reporters in Geneva that the casualties were confirmed by UNICEF’S local partners in Yemen.
Yemen’s turmoil began in February as the unrest spreading throughout the Arab world set off largely peaceful protests in the deeply impoverished and unstable corner of the Arabian Peninsula that is also home to an al-Qaeda offshoot blamed for several nearly successful attempts to attack the United States.
The government has responded with a heavy crackdown. President Saleh went to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after a June attack on his Sanaa compound and has not returned to Yemen, but has resisted calls to resign.
Abdul Rahman Barman, the executive director of a local human rights organization, said President Saleh’s regime is attacking with no limits and does not differentiate between civilians, protesters or gunmen. “All are targets for the oppressive Saleh regime,” Barman said. (CNN)
Government spokesman Abdu Ganadi said that “government troops are attacking armed militants who claim to be unarmed.” (CNN)
After the dawn Muslim prayer on Tuesday, Saleh’s forces lobbed mortar shells at Change Square, a plaza at the heart of the city where protesters have held a sit-in since the uprising began in February.
Manea al-Matari, a protester, told Reuters news agency: “We were walking back from prayers. All of a sudden a rocket hit close by from out of nowhere, and some people fell down. And then a second one came and that’s when we saw the two martyred.” (BBC)
Medical officials said the shelling killed three protesters, three rebel soldiers and a bystander. Clashes between protesters and security forces in the southern city of Taiz left two more people dead, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the information.
Elsewhere in the capital, clashes between protesters and security forces erupted in several districts, with gunfire raging out in areas close to Saleh’s residence and the office of his son and one-time heir apparent, Ahmed, commander of the elite loyalist Republican Guards and Special Forces.
In the upscale district of Hadah, home to senior government official as well as tribal leaders opposed to Saleh, gun battles were raging between forces loyal to the president’s son and bands of tribal fighters opposed to the regime.
The violence is forcing more of the capital’s residents to flee to the relative safety of rural Yemen. Scores of pickup trucks and sedans loaded with families and personal belongings could be seen headed out in early Tuesday morning after a night in which loud explosions repeatedly shook the city. Most of those staying put in the capital are not leaving their homes for fear of snipers or getting caught up in gunfights, leaving the city looking increasingly deserted on Tuesday morning, with most stores shuttered.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed its alarm at reported gunfights inside in al-Gomhori hospital – one of Sanaa’s main medical centres.
Aid agencies warn that the country is suffering a severe humanitarian crisis with about 7.5 million Yemenis – one third of the population – going hungry.
A ceasefire has been agreed in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. It was apparently negotiated by Yemen’s vice-president and Western envoys. The city fell quiet before sunset after hours-long gun battles between government troops and armed opponents spread into the wealthiest suburbs.
Only sporadic bursts of gunfire could be heard after Tuesday’s ceasefire came into effect at 16:00. The truce was negotiated by Vice President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and several foreign envoys, including the US and British ambassadors in Sanaa, unnamed officials were quoted as telling the Associated Press news agency.
Everyone will now be watching to see if the calm lasts, says BBC Middle East Correspondent Jon Leyne from Cairo – and whether it provides space for negotiations over a handover of power currently being mediated by international representatives. Envoys from the UN and the Gulf Cooperation Council arrived in Yemen on Monday to try to sort out a deal to end the bloodshed.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the violence and called on all those involved in it to exercise restraint. “The United States continues to support the Yemeni people’s aspirations for a peaceful and orderly transition that is responsive to their aspirations for peace, reconciliation, prosperity, and security. A political solution is the best way to avoid further bloodshed,” she said in a statement. (CNN)
Abdul Ghani al-Shamiri, a media representative for Gen. Ali Mohsen, who defected from the government six months ago, said Tuesday: “The defected military is not fighting the government. We are defending and and not attacking. We cannot watch government troops attack innocent protesters and not help them. We will insist that the revolution remains peaceful but in the same time ensure that unarmed protesters are safe.” (CNN) Al-Shamiri told CNN that since defected military members were fighting only to defend the protesters, the violence would stop once the government troops stopped attacking.