Hundreds of Yemeni rebels reported killed


Hundreds of Yemeni Shi'ite rebels who infiltrated into Saudi Arabia have been slain by security forces, a top Saudi defence official said today.

State media said four Saudi soldiers had been killed in the border clashes.

Separately, Yemeni forces killed 19 rebels in sweeps to rid the old quarter of the north Yemeni town Saada of Shi'ite rebel hideouts, Yemen's Interior Ministry said. About 25 rebels were seized.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest nation, came to the foreground of US-led efforts to battle militancy after a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said it was behind a failed December 25 plot to bomb a US-bound airliner.

Saudi Arabia launched its assault on Yemen's Shi'ite Muslim rebels, known as Houthis, in the area near its border with Yemen in November after the insurgents killed two Saudi border guards in a cross-border incursion.

The latest deaths brought to 82 the number of Saudi troops killed in the border conflict with Yemeni Shi'ite rebels, state television said. On December 22nd, Riyadh said 73 troops had been killed in the fighting.

Saudi state television, citing Assistant Minister of Defence Prince Khaled bin Sultan, reported that Yemeni rebel infiltrators had been given an ultimatum to leave the al-Jabri area where the border post is located within 48 hours.

"They did not comply ... All of them have been destroyed," he said.  "The infiltrators inflicted upon themselves hundreds of deaths," he told the television station.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda will take advantage of Yemen's instability to spread its operations to the neighbouring kingdom, the world's top oil exporter, and beyond. Yemen itself produces a small amount of oil.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said it has gained the upper hand in the conflict with the Yemeni rebels, but fighting has continued. Rebels, who say Saudi planes often bomb their areas, have rejected Saudi claims of success in the ground fighting but say many civilians have been killed.

Yemen said that its operation against the rebels, dubbed 'blow to the head', was continuing. The rebels have fought the government since 2004, complaining of social, economic and religious marginalisation.

Yemen also faces separatist sentiment in the south and is fighting a resurgent al Qaeda in several provinces. Security forces chasing al Qaeda militants in Shabwa province arrested four suspects after a clash, a security official said.

Security forces were engaged in a clash with about 10 people who had fled to the house of a suspected al Qaeda militant, the official told Reuters.