SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Fierce clashes erupted between rebels and tribes backed by an army unit in a northern Yemeni city close to the capital on Friday, breaching a week-old ceasefire, a Defense Ministry official said, as the country's leaders said assailants were plotting to destabilize the country.
The official said that heavy weapons and artillery were being used in the fighting in the northern city of Amran. Hawthi rebels, who belong to a branch of Shiite Islam, are fighting tribesmen from Yemen's largest tribal confederation, the Hashid, which is backed by an army unit and allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. Hawthis are backed by supporters from smaller tribes.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the rebels' spokesman, accused the Muslim Brotherhood's Islah party in parliament of instigating the breach in the ceasefire.
The number of casualties was not immediately clear but over the past months hundreds have been killed and injured in similar clashes that have spilled to northern cities where rebels accuse ultraconservative Salafis of trying to spread their ideology in Shiite strongholds.
The Hawthis waged a six-year insurgency in the north against ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, which officially ended in 2010.
Meanwhile, Yemeni officials accused Saleh and his loyalists of trying to stage a "coup" and roll back the country's transition from his rule.
In a statement carried by Yemen's official news agency Saba, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said that the country faced a "plot to abort the transitional political process" on June 11, when security forces say assailants set fire to tires across the capital some 280 times and besieged dozens of trucks carrying fuel, causing a shortage. Assailants also struck power stations and grids, they added.
Electricty went out across Yemen that day and lines of cars waiting for fuel stretched outside gas stations, amid reports of scattered demonstrations by armed men.
"This is aimed at bringing the wheel of history backward and taking us to square 1," Hadi said, without giving the names of those behind the alleged plot.
On Friday, Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Bassindwa said in an interview with Dubai TV that it was Saleh who "plotted a coup" by disrupting life and creating chaos in the streets on June 11.
Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, is facing multiple challenges. In addition to the presence of the world's most dangerous al-Qaida offshoot in several cities the country, it faces a secessionist movement in the south and a Hawthi rebellion in the north. After the ouster of Saleh, Hadi has worked on restructuring the military and security forces to ensure full loyalty to the new leadership. He has however also complained of what he describes as Saleh's attempts to hinder reforms.