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Shiite Muslims clash with Yemeni troops; more than 20 dead

  • Story Highlights
  • Militants say 11 soldiers killed; Interior Ministry says more than 12 rebels died
  • The two groups have been fighting for three days in the Yemeni city of Saada
  • Violence erupted as the groups were on the verge of signing peace agreement
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(CNN) -- A third day of fighting between Shiite Muslim militants and government troops in northwestern Yemen killed more than 20 people Sunday, government and rebel officials reported.

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A crowd at the scene of a motorcycle bomb attack in the rebel stronghold of Saada in northern Yemen last week.

The clashes pitted government troops against fighters from the al-Houthi movement, a Shia sect that has launched previous revolts against Yemeni authorities, in the city of Saada.

Abdul Malik al-Houthi, a spokesman for the militants, said 11 soldiers were killed in an attack on a military camp, while the country's Interior Ministry said more than a dozen rebels were killed in the battle.

More than 65 people have been killed and 150 wounded since a Friday bombing outside a mosque, for which each side blames the other. Yemen's government dispatched troops and artillery to Saada on Saturday and attempted to impose a media blackout on the city of about 450,000, which is in the country's mountainous northwest, amid the fighting.

The latest violence erupted as the two sides were on the verge of signing a peace agreement to settle the most recent of the al-Houthi's five previous uprisings. Yemeni authorities believe the movement includes about 2,000 to 3,000 of Yemen's Shia population of more than 9 million.

The government released most al-Houthi prisoners as part of a peace agreement that was supposed to have been finalized in April.

In exchange, the al-Houthi were supposed to disarm and surrender, but would not face prison time.

But the government says that the movement has failed to give up its weapons, and that the prisoners it freed have rejoined the fighters.

Saada is about 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of the country's capital, Sanaa. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Journalist Hakim Almasnari contributed to this report.

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