Saudi official: Weeks of fighting with Yemen rebels has left 73 Saudis dead, 26 missing

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weeks of fighting Yemen rebels killed 73 Saudis

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that 73 Saudis have been killed and 26 have gone missing since the kingdom launched an offensive against Yemeni Shiite rebels along the border last month.

The announcement was the first indication that the U.S. ally had suffered such heavy losses in the remote area, where it is difficult to independently confirm details of the fighting. The rebels, known as Hawthis, have alleged dozens of civilian deaths in Saudi air assaults.

Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the Saudi assistant defense minister, also said during a border tour that Yemeni rebels who seized the border village of al-Jabiri have 48 hours to vacate it or surrender. Saudi forces have tried to retake al-Jabiri, a tiny outpost surrounded by Yemeni territory on three sides.

The prince said in remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency that the conflict “was almost finished,” but did not elaborate on that claim. He referred to the dead as “martyrs,” a term used to describe slain troops.

Saudi Arabia launched an air and ground offensive against the Yemeni rebels on November 5, after skirmishes along the border.

Both Saudi Arabia and Yemen have accused Shiite Iran of backing the rebels, a charge Tehran has denied.

The Yemeni rebels complain that the Yemeni government is allied with hardline Sunnis who advocate Saudi-influenced conservative Islam.

Sunni radicals, who consider Shiites to be heretics, gained influence in Yemen after helping the government win the 1994 civil war against the secessionist south.

Yemen, troubled by a weak central government, is also struggling to confront a threat from al-Qaida militants, pirates roaming the waters off its shores and the increasingly powerful secessionist movement in the south.

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