Deadly clashes erupt in northern Yemen

At least 13 killed in latest violence between Houthi fighters and security forces in volatile al-Jawf province

Security forces stand guard in Sanaa on Feb. 23, 2014 as authorities tighten security measures after gunmen shot dead an intelligence officer the previous day in Yemen's southern Shabwa province.
Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

At least 13 people were killed when Shia fighters clashed with security forces in northern Yemen on Friday, government sources said, underlining the chaos still gripping the country two years after mass protests ousted its leader.

The fighters were from the Houthi movement, which is seeking to strengthen its hold on the north — one of a string of challenges facing Yemen’s interim government also battling southern separatists, Al-Qaeda-linked militants and an economic crisis.

The security situation in Yemen is closely watched in Gulf Arab states and Washington given the impoverished country's strategic position next to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and to main shipping ports. It is one of a handful of countries on whose territory the United States utilizes its controversial drone program.

Violence erupted after members of the Houthi movement staged a protest in al-Hazm, the provincial capital of northwestern al-Jawf province, against what they said was the government's failure to boost the economy and end violence.

Officials from both sides gave different accounts of what happened next.

One government security source, who asked not to be named, said armed Houthi protesters exchanged fire with soldiers at an army checkpoint near a local government compound, leaving at least 10 Houthis and three soldiers dead.

Another security source said some of the soldiers may have been supporters of one of the Houthis' long-standing foes – the Sunni Islah party, a group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Houthis said they were attacked by armed Islah members supported by a group from the army, according to a statement on a Houthi-linked website. However, Islah member Mohammed Qahtan said the group had no armed wing and played no part in Friday's violence.

There were "dozens of dead and wounded," Ali al-Bakhiti, a member of the Houthi movement in the capital Sanaa, told Reuters.

While Reuters reported that at least 13 people were killed, Agence France Presse reported that at least 24 had died.

Yemen's interim President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has been struggling to restore order and meet the demands of the country's rival groups since his predecessor, veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced out of office in 2012.

On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council authorized sanctions against anyone in Yemen who obstructs the country's political transition or commits human rights violations, but stopped short of blacklisting any groups or individuals.

Wire services

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