January 4, 2010 / 8:22 AM / 10 years ago

Yemen Shi'ite rebels say 16 dead in Saudi airstrikes

DUBAI (Reuters) - Yemeni Shi’ite rebels who have launched a rebellion in the north of the poorest Arab country said on Monday Saudi Arabian warplanes killed 16 Yemenis in a barrage of strikes over two days in the Yemen-Saudi border area.

The Houthi rebels — named after their leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi — said on their website six people were killed and six more wounded when strikes destroyed two houses on Sunday.

Strikes killed 10 and wounded 13 in a market in another area on Saturday, the rebels said in a separate website statement.

Saudi defence ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Shi’ite rebels from the Zaidi sect in northern Yemen have fought government troops since 2004, complaining of social, economic and religious marginalisation.

The conflict, which has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands, drew in neighbouring Saudi Arabia in November when rebels staged a cross-border incursion into the world’s biggest oil exporter.

Yemen, also facing separatist activity in the south, grabbed the international spotlight when al Qaeda said it was behind an attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger plane on Christmas Day.

The bomb attempt, by a Nigerian who said he had received training and equipment in Yemen, was a reminder of U.S. and Saudi fears that al Qaeda would exploit instability to turn Yemen into a launchpad for more attacks.

Yemeni warplanes also struck targets in the Saada region on Sunday, pounding it with rockets and mortar fire, the rebels said. The rebels said they had disabled an armoured vehicle and toppled a tank into a valley.

Reporting by Tamara Walid; Editing by Louise Ireland

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