SANAA (Reuters) - Sunni Al Qaeda militants and Shi'ite Muslim rebels have fought a bloody battle in central Yemen, tribal sources said on Wednesday, amid fears of worsening sectarian tension in the impoverished Arabian country.
Thirty Shi'ite rebels and 18 Sunni fighters and their tribal allies were killed in the clashes, the tribal sources told Reuters. Shi'ite Houthi rebels seized control of the capital Sanaa on Sept. 21 and their forces have fanned out to Yemen's west and center since then.
Al-Qaeda in Yemen's Twitter page said it fought the rebels with light weapons and demolished their homes in the city of Radda in al-Bayda province over the course of several hours on Tuesday - an account confirmed by local tribesmen.
The statement did not mention any casualties on its side, which the tribal sources put at 18 among the militants and tribal gunmen fighting along with the group.
In a separate incident, Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for an attack on an army checkpoint elsewhere in al-Bayda province which killed 5 soldiers, the fighters and security sources said.
Radda, with a population of 60,000, has long been a stronghold of al-Qaeda, which includes many fighters from local tribes who are up in arms over the new presence of the Houthi rebels in the mainly Sunni-populated region.
The northern-based Shi'ite Houthi established themselves as power brokers in Yemen last month by capturing Sanaa against scant resistance from the weak administration of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who appears not to have a full grip on the country's fractious military.
Houthi forces have since advanced into central Yemen and taken on Sunni tribesmen and al Qaeda militants, who regard the Houthis as heretics. Fighting has flared in several provinces, alarming the world's No. 1 oil exporter Saudi Arabia next door.
(Reporting By Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Noah Browning; editing by Sami Aboudi and Tom Heneghan)