U.N. brokers accord after heavy Yemen clashes

Smoke rises from the burning headquarters of the Yemeni state television building, which is under attack from Shi'ite Houthi militants, in Sanaa. (Reuters)

The U.N. envoy to Yemen announced Saturday that an accord had been reached to "resolve the current crisis" in Yemen, after a week of deadly fighting between Shiite rebels and pro-government forces, Agence France Presse reported.

Jamal Benomar said in a statement that the deal came after "intense consultations with all the political parties, including [rebels] Ansarullah, to resolve the current crisis based on the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference."

The statement, which did not provide details, added that preparations were under way to sign the agreement.

President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi called for a U.N.-brokered political settlement with the Shiite rebels.

Earlier Saturday, Yemen's state-run television building in Sanaa caught fire after three days of mortar attacks by Houthi rebels, Reuters reported, as some of the worst violence seen in the capital for years raged for a third day straight.

The head of Yemen TV, Hussain Basleem, told Reuters the shelling had wounded several people in the building which was surrounded by Houthi rebels. Food and water supplies were running low.

Yemeni television broadcast a written message calling on national and international organizations to intervene to save its employees from the shelling. It later also broadcast another written message asking the defense minister to intervene to free the staff members trapped inside.

The fighting, which intensified on Thursday after weeks of protests and clashes, appeared to be the biggest challenge yet to a U.N.-backed transition to democracy launched after veteran ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in 2012.

"The right choice is through the process taking place with [U.N. special envoy] Jamal Benomar," Hadi was quoted as saying by the official Saba news agency. He described the Houthi advance into Sanaa as "inexcusable."

Insecurity and political turmoil have grown in Yemen since Arab Spring protests ousted Saleh. The Houthi insurrection is one of several security challenges in Yemen, which borders oil exporter Saudi Arabia and is struggling with a secessionist movement in the south and the spread of an Al-Qaeda insurgency.

The Houthis, who belong to the Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam, have been involved in a decade-long conflict with the Sunni-dominated government, fighting for more control and territory in the north.

Prominent figures from the mainly Sunni Muslim clan, one of the most powerful tribes in Yemen, hold senior positions in the armed forces and the government.

Shiite Houthi rebels clashed with the army on the outskirts of Sanaa on Thursday. The fighting escalated mainly between the Houthis and tribesmen allied with the al-Ahmar clan, Reuters news agency.

In a neighboring area close to the interior ministry where Houthis have been staging a sit-in, three mortar rounds were fired on Saturday, according to a Reuters witness. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the shelling, the agency said.

Residents and relatives of victims reported at least 16 people dead between Friday night and Saturday morning, 10 of them from the same family who were trying to flee their home in Shamlan district in the north of the capital. Their mini-bus was hit by a mortar bomb.

Medical sources also told Reuters 13 Houthis had died on Saturday in confrontations with the army in the capital.

Officials were not immediately available to confirm the death toll.

The Ministry of Education announced it would temporarily close schools from Sunday for the safety of students and teachers, Saba reported.

The University of Sanaa, the country's biggest, was closed on Saturday after a mortar fell inside its grounds during clashes on Friday.

(With AFP, Reuters)

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Last Update: 10:53 KSA 13:53 - GMT 10:53
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