SANAA (Reuters) - At least eight people were killed on Wednesday after Shi’ite Muslim fighters clashed with the army and allied Sunni tribesmen over the control of a strategic hilltop north of the Yemeni capital, local officials said.
The area has had bouts of sectarian clashes since last year, undermining efforts at national reconciliation in Yemen, a neighbour of major oil exporter Saudi Arabia and home to one of al Qaeda’s most active wings.
The fighting began on Tuesday when armed men loyal to the Shi’ite Houthi tribe attacked military and security outposts near the city of Omran, in the province that carries the same name, killing six soldiers and one officer, military sources said. The army responded to the attack, killing nine of the fighters.
The fighting resumed on Wednesday, local officials said, after mediation efforts failed to agree on a ceasefire. They said four soldiers and four allied tribesmen died in the clashes.
No details were immediately available on casualties among the Houthis.
Violence erupted in Omran last week when a group of armed Houthi fighters marched to the provincial capital and demanded to stage a demonstration, but were refused entry by the army. Three people were killed.
Fighters loyal to the Houthis, who have repeatedly fought government forces since 2004, are trying to tighten their grip on the north as Yemen eyes moves towards a federal system that will devolve more power to regions.
Earlier this month at least 40 people were killed in clashes between Houthis and tribesmen near Sanaa.
Yemen is trying to recover from political upheaval that began in 2011 when mass protests paralysed life in the U.S.-allied country of 25 million demanding reforms, and forced long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.
Saleh’s successor, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has been trying to restore state control over the chaotic country.
Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari in Sanaa, Writing by Sami Aboudi