SHAFAQNA- At least 15 people, including five women, have been killed in shelling by a Yemeni Shiite militia targeting a mainly Sunni district, local officials and tribal sources said Friday.
Yemen has been rocked by growing instability since the Shiite fighters, known as Huthis, seized control of the capital Sanaa in September.
The Huthis have expanded their presence throughout the strife-torn nation in the face of fierce resistance from Sunni tribes backed by Al-Qaeda’s powerful Yemeni branch.
Heavy Huthi shelling of a northern district of the central town of Rada killed five women late Thursday and displaced thousands, witness Jaber al-Zuba told AFP by telephone.
Government officials and tribal sources confirmed that five women were among 15 members of tribes killed by the shelling, with at least 25 more people wounded.
The sources said 30 Huthis were also killed in fighting around Rada.
AFP could not immediately obtain an independent toll, and the Huthis rarely provide casualty figures.
Tribesmen in Rada said they destroyed two tanks and three armoured vehicles used by Shiite militias, also accused the army of backing them with heavy weaponry.
“The Huthis are using the army’s equipment in the battle,” one tribal source told AFP.
The rise of the Huthis has challenged the authority of President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, an ally of the United States, and violence has continued despite UN-backed efforts to find a political solution.
Instability in Yemen, which lies next to key shipping routes from the Suez Canal to the Gulf, stems from the 2012 overthrow of longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been accused of backing the rebels.
Saleh is a member of the Zaidi sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which the Huthis belong.
– Support for government urged –
A new cabinet, including members considered close to the Huthis, was sworn in Sunday in a bid to resolve the political crisis, despite calls for a boycott from both Saleh and the Shiite militia.
But authorities have yet to tackle the fighters in Sanaa or to impose order in other parts of the country where they have also imposed themselves.
In a speech published Thursday, Hadi urged all political factions to support the new government in facing “extraordinary challenges. such as restoring state authority and the status of the army and security forces… as well as saving the country from an economic collapse that appears to be imminent.”
Meanwhile, thousands rallied Friday for independence in the main southern city of Aden waving the flags of the former South Yemen.
“Raise your voice southerner — it’s death or independence,” they chanted.
Emboldened by the Huthis expansion in the north, southern activists began a campaign of protests last month, including an indefinite sit-in in Aden.
The south was independent between the end of British colonial rule in 1967 and union with the north in 1990.
A secession attempt four years later sparked a brief but bloody civil war that ended with northern forces occupying the region.
The separatists, as well as the Huthis, rejected plans unveiled in February for Yemen to become a six-region federation, including two in the south.