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Yemen: the three-sided fight for control of Sana’a

Twenty-three people were killed in heavy shelling in Sanaa on Tuesday bringing the death toll to 76 in three days of clashes as a three-sided fight rages for control of the Yemeni capital.


Elite forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the embattled leader struggling to fend off a popular uprising, attacked the base of a renegade general who has been protecting demonstrators occupying one of the city’s main squares.

At the same time, deadly clashes took place between official forces and fighters loyal to a leading tribal chief who has vowed to depose Mr Saleh in the upmarket Hadda district of the city.

Fighting was fiercest at the Kentaky traffic circle just over a mile away from the demonstration square, where the government forces have formed a front line against the defectors, led by Gen Ali Mohsen.

Four of the dead were renegade troops. Government snipers have been targeting former colleagues on the other side of the line.

Two civilians were killed in a shopfront after one of the shells, fired from a hillside encampment of the pro-government Republican Guard, missed its target, Gen Mohsen’s 1st Armoured Division headquarters.

Anti-government protesters were enraged by photographs of a 10-month old child killed by a bullet to the head a day earlier that were published in national newspapers.

The most serious fighting that Sana’a has seen for months was triggered by an impasse in Gulf sponsored peace negotiations that would see Mr Saleh hand over power.

An opposition attack on a base of the Republican Guard, which is led by Mr Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali, drew a blistering response from the loyalists. The clashes then drew in militias loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, the leader of the city’s largest tribe, who has defected to the opposition but kept his fighters under check.

Diplomats described the violence as a provocation followed by a disproportionate government response that would not break the stalemate between the two sides over negotiations.

“There are spoilers on both sides who are not looking for a compromise or maybe aren’t getting what they want from a compromise,” said April Longley Alley, senior analyst Arabian Peninsula at the International Crisis Group. “Maybe they feel they could achieve more by escalating right now.”

Yemen’s economy has largely collapsed since the protests began in January. More than $1 billion of international aid and humanitarian assistance has been suspended as foreign donors acted to ensure that the money was not propping up a dying regime.

Mr Saleh was forced to take refuge in Saudi Arabia after an artillery attack on his compound caused severe burns and shrapnel injuries. But he has fought a dogged rearguard against losing power in exile and secured important support from the oil-rich kingdom.

But while Saudi Arabia has sent millions of barrels of oil and military teams into Yemen, it has not delivered a diplomatic breakthrough.

In the absence of a deal, the dangers of a spiral of violence has grown. For the moment all sides are publicly committed to a negotiated settlement.

The bloodletting coincided with the arrival in Sana’a of Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy to Yemen to seek backing for an international road map for the transfer of power.

Filed in: World News

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