Fifteen aid workers 'kidnapped by rebels'

An update on events in Yemen.

The governor of Saada province says Houthi rebels have kidnapped 15 Red Crescent workers – doctors, nurses and administrators – at a camp for displaced people in al-Anad district. Speaking on state-run television, he said they were blindfolded, beaten and abducted at gunpoint. The kidnapping is said to have occurred on Thursday. So far, there is no independent confirmation.

The German Press Agency (dpa) says it has been told by government officials “that authorities cut off all communications with Saada Friday to isolate the rebels”. This presumably means the telephone system in the area has been turned off (a tactic used by the government before), so it is likely that for the time being only the government version of events will be reported.

The Saada governor, Hassan Mohammed Manaa, also said that over the past four days 17,000 families have fled their homes and accused the rebels of killing four leaders of al-Azl tribe and 15 other civilians, including women and children.

AFP says two soldiers and 16 rebels were killed in new clashes today (Friday); Reuters says five soldiers and 16 rebels were killed. Today’s fighting appears to have shifted southwards, towards Saada’s boundary with Umran province.

An editorial in the Yemen Post, published on Wednesday, explains the government’s alarm at the scale of the insurrection:

… the entire governorate of Sa’ada is in the hands of Houthis. The small group who fled to the mountains to run from death is suddenly ruling a big portion of the country, and are expanding to two neighboring governorates, Amran and Jawf.

Houthis today have changed their strategy, and they are now attacking and growing while they were before only demanding simple things. A portion of the Saudi-Yemeni border is now in the hands of Houthis, with sources saying that Houthi leaders have already met with Saudi officials, ensuring them that they will never enter Saudi lands.

This time war seems more important than ever for the government. They are not fighting a small group anymore, but rather fighting a group which is growing in number and power.

Governor Manaa has said the state of emergency imposed on Tuesday will be "lifted only when the rebels have been crushed". This is very reminiscent of Israeli bluster about crushing Hizbullah and Hamas. It didn’t work for the Israelis and it won’t work for President Salih’s forces either. 

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 14 August 2009,