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Rebels overrun tribal stronghold in Yemen

From Hakim Almasmari, for CNN
updated 8:55 PM EST, Sun February 2, 2014
Shiite Houthi rebels have overrun a stronghold in northern Yemen controlled by members of the Sunni Hashid tribe, pictured above.
Shiite Houthi rebels have overrun a stronghold in northern Yemen controlled by members of the Sunni Hashid tribe, pictured above.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Shiite militants have been battling Sunni tribesmen in northern Yemen
  • Hashid tribal stronghold was overrun on Sunday morning, tribal leaders say
  • At least 42 people died and more than a dozen were injured in fighting on Friday, officials say
  • Cease-fire negotiations have already been under way

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Shiite Houthi rebels have overrun a tribal stronghold in northern Yemen after weeks of fighting that has left scores dead, tribal leaders said Sunday.

Leaders of the Sunni Hashid tribe said Houthi fighters managed to break through their defense lines in the al-Khamri district in Amran.

"Al-Ahmar tribesmen were surrounded by hundreds of Houthi militants who attacked using heavy artillery for seven continuous hours starting last night," said Ali Al-Suraimi, a leader within the Hashid tribe, referring to Hashid tribal leaders.

"Hundreds of additional Houthi fighters reinforced those attacking the al-Ahmar fighters. They easily outnumbered the al-Ahmar tribesmen and this was key for the Houthis' success on the ground."

He said the Hashid tribesmen had evacuated their stronghold on Sunday morning. "The Hashid tribes are expected to regroup, and this is far from over," Al-Suraimi said.

Another Hashid tribal leader echoed this.

On Friday, at least 42 people were killed and more than a dozen injured in clashes between Houthi militants and Hashid fighters in Amran province, which is about 30 miles north of the capital, Sanaa, and seen as a linchpin to controlling the region, officials said.

President Abdurabu Hadi has dispatched a committee to discuss a cease-fire with Houthi leaders and persuade them to leave the area, according to state-run media.

Cease-fire talks

Cease-fire negotiations were already under way to put an end to the fighting that has plagued Yemen since late last year, spurred in part by a power vacuum left by the departure of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Tensions between the rebel Houthis and the Hashid tribe, which includes Sunni tribesmen and conservative Islamic Salafists, began to rise last October, when the Houthis blamed the Hashid for standing behind the killing of one of their members.

At least 240 people from both sides have been killed since the beginning of January in the fighting. Hundreds of civilians have evacuated their towns in Amran.

Yemen is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, believed by many analysts to be the most dangerous affiliate of the terror network.

Separately on Sunday, Yemeni officials said armed tribesmen kidnapped a German national in Sanaa.

Kidnapping has long been a problem in Yemen, with tribes often using foreign nationals as bargaining chips in their dealings with the central government. But the past 24 months have proven even more dangerous for foreigners.

CNN's Roba Alhenawi and Marie-Louise Gumuchian contributed to this report

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