AFP – Yemeni troops began to deploy in the northern province of Saada on Saturday to monitor a ceasefire between Shi’a rebels and hardline Sunni Salafists, a security official said.
The deal brokered late Friday by a presidential commission ends fighting that erupted in late October centred on a Salafist mosque and Koranic school in the town of Dammaj.
But the deadly conflict had spread in the northern provinces, embroiling Sunni tribes wary of the power of the Shi’a rebels, known as Huthis, who have been accused of receiving support from Iran.
“Forces have begun deploying in the areas surrounding Dammaj,” the Saada-based security official told AFP, adding some gunmen had not yet vacated their posts.
The deal stipulated the two sides would withdraw from the areas around Dammaj to be replaced by army troops who would monitor the ceasefire, said Yahya Abu Isba, head of the presidential mediation commission.
“This agreement ends the military conflict between the Huthis and the Salafists in Dammaj… and prevents a sectarian war that was looming over Yemen,” he told state television.
The Huthis, named after their late leader Abdel Malek al-Huthi, are part of the Zaidi Shi’aShi’a community.
They rose up in 2004 in their stronghold of Saada against the government of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, blaming it for marginalising them.
They accuse radical Sunnis in Dammaj of turning the town centre into “a real barracks for thousands of armed foreigners”, a reference to the Dar al-Hadith Koranic school, where foreigners study.
The security official said a plane was expected to evacuate “foreign students” and the leader of the Salafists in Dammaj, Yahya al-Hujuri, on Saturday.
Sources in the mediation commission told AFP that Hujuri had requested that President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi decide on a solution for the Koranic school and its foreign students, while providing protection for the town.
Dammaj has a population of about 15,000 people.
The Red Cross said on Monday it evacuated 34 critically wounded from Dammaj after the two sides reached a truce.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it entered Dammaj six times since the fighting resumed on 24 October.
On Wednesday, a presidential commission also managed to broker a ceasefire between the Shi’a rebels and gunmen from the powerful Hashid tribes, ending two days of clashes in the northern province of Amran.
Fighting had erupted on Monday when Huthi rebels tried to seize the towns of Wadi Khaywan and Usaimat, strongholds of the Hashid tribe in Amran.
The two sides also agreed to the deployment of monitors.
Clashes have also spread to the provinces of Jawf, along the borders with Saudi Arabia.
President Hadi has been dispatching mediators to areas of conflict in the south Arabian Peninsula country as national talks aimed at drafting a new constitution appear close to a conclusion.