Tribal fighters in missile battle at Yemen presidential palace

[Updated at 8:38 a.m. ET]  At least seven senior government officials were injured during the shelling of the presidential compound, Tareq al-Shami, Yemeni government spokesman said Friday.

Al-Shami said that the prime minister, parliament speaker, deputy prime minister, and Sana’a governor were all injured among many others at a mosque located inside the presidential compound.

“The officials were praying when the shelling hit a mosque in the presidential compound. A number of the injured are in serious condition,” al-Shami said.

[Updated at 8:23 a.m. ET]  Fighting raged on Friday in two major Yemeni hot spots, as government forces and tribesmen slugged it out in the capital of Sanaa and protesters clashed with security in the city of Taiz.

Tribal fighters and the regime’s forces battled with missiles in Sanaa. The fighters shot missiles at the presidential palace and the government responded by launching missile strikes on a dissident tribal leader’s property.

In Taiz, government security forces and gunmen protecting protesters fought street battles.

The security forces began shooting at protesters assembled in the city’s Freedom Square, and gunmen supporting the demonstrators burned an armored vehicle belonging to security forces.

Abdullah Afti, a youth activist in Taiz, said four anti-government protesters had been shot during Friday prayers.

Fighting has rippled across Yemen for months between supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and anti-government forces who want him out of office.

Discontent has rippled across the country and demonstrations have been common.

But late last month, battling between pro-Saleh forces and tribal elements added a new element to the instability in the country.

The International Crisis Group recently said that on May 23 fighting erupted between military forces controlled by “Saleh’s son and nephews and fighters loyal to the preeminent sheikh of the powerful Hashed confederation, Sadiq al-Ahmar.”

“The personal animosity and competition between the sons of the late Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar (Sadiq and his nine brothers) and the sons and nephews of Saleh have been a consistent obstacle to negotiations over a peaceful transfer of power. Now, this animus threatens to drag the country toward a full-scale civil war,” the group said.

The fighting has focused on these groups but “it could easily escalate, drawing in other tribal factions” and the armed confrontation has already led to the deaths of more than 100 people, the ICG said in a “conflict risk alert” last Friday.

“During the course of a tribal mediation attempt, Saleh’s security forces fired on Sadiq’s home, killing several prominent sheikhs and injuring dozens of other individuals, including one of the president’s closest allies and trusted negotiators, Ghalib Ghamish – head of Political Security, Yemen’s intelligence service,” the ICG said.

The urban battles leave Sanaa’s population “at great risk.”

“Hundreds are fleeing, fearing a tribal invasion from the countryside,” the ICG said.

( / 03.06.2011)

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