Rebels claim government warplane shot down

Yemen's government is denying claims by Shiite rebels - the subject of a current government offensive - that they shot down a government MiG warplane in the northern region of Saada on Friday, saying that a technical problem caused the crash.


AFP - Yemeni Shiite rebels said they shot down a MiG warplane which was raiding their strongholds in the northern region of Saada on Friday, but the government said it crashed because of technical problems.

The Zaidi rebels, also known as Huthis, said in a statement that the jet was downed "this morning in the Shaaf area of Saada province, while it was bombing civilians in villages and markets."

It said the pilot was "identified as Lieutenant Shamsan Mohammed Abdo Mufleh," but did not say whether he was dead or alive.

A military commander told AFP the aircraft had been "flying at low attitude" before it crashed, but a senior Yemeni official told AFP the "MiG 21 fell because of a technical problem and in an area where there is no combat," rejecting the claim that it was shot down.

Government forces continue to press their seven-week-old offensive against the Huthis in the northern mountains, with no sign of the conflict ending.

Fierce fighting took place on Friday morning around Saada town, a military commander told AFP.

A military source on Thursday claimed that 24 rebels had been killed in clashes near Saada, without saying whether there had been any military casualties.

On Wednesday, 28 rebels were killed in clashes near the town of Saada, the centre of the region of the same name which borders Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, five other rebels and four soldiers are reported to have been killed in fighting in the Harf Sufyan district of Amran province, on the road linking the capital Sanaa with Saada, and the scene of heavy fighting.

The army launched Operation Scorched Earth on August 11 in an attempt to finally crush an uprising in which thousands of people have been killed since it first broke out in 2004.

Journalists are not allowed to enter the area where the fighting is taking place, and there has been no reliable count of casualties.

The authorities say 127 rebels have been captured since the start of the offensive, including 44 who have since been referred to court for "killing and aggression" against government forces.

The United Nations estimates that 55,000 people have fled their homes because of the conflict.

The authorities accuse the rebels of seeking to restore the Zaidi Shiite imamate that was overthrown in a republican coup in 1962, triggering an eight-year civil war. The government also says they are backed by Shiite Iran.

But the rebels deny both claims, and in turn accuse the Sanaa government, which they accuse of aggression and marginalisation, of bringing in Saudi warplanes to support the ground operation.

A minority in mainly Sunni Yemen, the Zaidis are the majority community in the north. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is himself a Zaidi.


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