SANAA, July 25 (Reuters) – A pro-government tribe has agreed a truce with Shi’ite rebels in Yemen to halt battles which caused up to 70 deaths last week and threatened to re-ignite a civil war, a provincial official said on Sunday.
The latest fighting, in which Yemeni government forces were also involved, was the bloodiest in the north since a truce in February ended a war between the government and Shi’ite rebels, known as Houthis, that has raged intermittently since 2004 and last year drew in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
“Battles between the Houthis and followers of Sheikh Saghir Ibn Aziz were halted after the success of tribal mediation in establishing a truce between the two sides,” the official told Reuters.
The official said the truce, sealed late on Saturday, provided for the withdrawal of all gunmen from their positions, the lifting of checkpoints and roadblocks and the removal of mines from roads. Between 53 and 70 people were estimated to have been killed in the fighting.
Yemen’s Western and Saudi allies want Sanaa, also trying to quell southern separatism, to resolve domestic conflicts like the northern war so it can focus on fighting a resurgent regional arm of al Qaeda, seen as a bigger international threat.
Tension between the rebels and the Ibn Aziz tribe, from the same Zaidi sect of Shi’ite Islam but which sided with the state during the civil war, has been growing in the Harf Sufyan area for months.
The tension exploded into violence after rebels attacked a tribal leader’s home in early July, killing three of his followers. Clashes broke out again last week, prompting government forces to intervene to assist the Ibn Aziz tribe. Five government soldiers were among those killed.
Qatar has offered to revive a 2008 peace deal it brokered between Sanaa and the rebels to end the war, which displaced 350,000 people.
Under Saturday’s truce, the Ibn Aziz tribe and rebels are expected to hold talks with mediators to resolve differences.
“Yes, we signed the agreement but there are still violations by the Houthis which we hope will stop,” tribal leader Sheikh Saghir told Reuters, accusing the rebels of trying to exact revenge on their wartime foes. There was no immediate comment from the rebels. (Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)