He said on Thursday the action brought to more than 60 the number of supporters of Husain al-Huthi killed since 20 June, when government forces launched an offensive against Huthi's Believing Youth group in Saada province.

Dozens more fled or gave themselves up, the source said, as security forces besieging the area took over some of the rebels' fortified bases.

Sources close to Huthi have put the death toll from the clashes at about 200. Security sources say nine policemen have also died and 10 have been wounded.

Yemeni authorities believe Huthi, a leader of the Zaidi Shia sect, also heads the rebel group which has staged violent protests against the United States and Israel.

They have accused him of setting up and training militia and attacking mosques and preachers in Saada, 240km (150 miles) north of the capital, Sanaa.

On Tuesday, Yemeni forces killed Zaid bin Ali al-Huthi, deputy commander of The Believing Youth and officials said they seized weapons and ammunition along with pamphlets "which promote sectarian strife".

Anti-US sentiment is high in the region over US involvement in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some clerics in Yemen preach hatred for the US and the West.

The poor country of 19 million people is also fighting to root out people linked to Saudi-born Usama bin Ladin's al-Qaida group. Huthi has not been accused of links to al-Qaida.