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Middle East
'Several killed' in Sanaa shelling
Mortars hit street where protesters seeking president's removal are camped, raising spectre of fresh violence.
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2011 21:09
Those attending funerals for 30 protesters in Sanaa today were fired upon by government forces [Reuters]

At least nine people have been killed after positions occupied by opposition demonstrators and army forces were shelled in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, medical officials say.

Less than 24 hours after a truce was declared, witnesses reported clashes had taken place in several areas of the capital on Wednesday. Medical officials told the AP news agency that mortars had been fired at Change Square, a central site which anti-govenrment protesters have occupied since February, when a movement for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh first began.

Dr Tariq Noman, the chief surgeon at a medical camp set up in Change Square, said that the shelling had begun during funeral prayers at the square.

"During the [funeral] prayer we start to hear the shelling on the square ... and we found we have at the moment nine dead people, six we have already evacuated them from the Change Square, but three of the dead people they are still now in the square ... we couldn't evacuate them from there," he said.

A military official from the First Armoured Brigade, commanded by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, told the AFP news agency that the shelling had targeted the brigade's headquarters, located near Change Square. He said that the northern part of the square had also been shelled.

Late on Tuesday, a ceasefire went into effect between the two sides to end three days of clashes that have killed more than 80 people, according to a freelance reporter.

The reporter, who cannot be named for his safety, said a huge funeral for the victims took place on Wednesday in the north of Sanaa.

He said heavy sound of shelling suddenly broke out just as people were praying and white smoke could seen rising from the centre of the capital.

More than 100 people have been wounded across the country since clashes erupted on Sunday.

Dr Noman said that Yemeni youth activists had called on the international community to provide them with medical aid, but that they had received no response.

"We don't have any response from anybody in the world until now. [...] I can say it is a disaster because most of these people they are dying because we don't have medical supplies to help them," he said.

"This is really strange, I don't know what they consider the Yemeni people: are we human or not? I mean we are suffering here, innocent people are suffering."

'Unprecedented' violence

The tenuous truce was negotiated by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the vice-president, and mediated by several foreign envoys, including the US and British ambassadors in Sanaa.

Yemen's interior ministry accused Ahmar's troops of "violating the ceasefire" in a statement aired on state television.

Ahmar's office, however, said the breakdown was instigated by the government.

"This is an attempt to explode the situation militarily and to impose a situation that triggers confrontation," a statement said, calling for international mediators to "discipline this gang and stop its barbaric actions."

Protests also took place in the southern city of Taiz on Wednesday, with police using water cannons and tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters gathered there who were demanding an end to Saleh's rule.

For more on Yemen, visit our Spotlight page

On Wednesday, Abullatif al-Zayani, the chief of the Gulf Cooperation Council left Yemen saying that political leaders on both sides were not ready to reach an agreement, the state news agency reported.

Zayani was in Sanaa to examine the outlook for a GCC peace plan which both parties have at earlier dates agreed to, but Salah has reneged on several times.

Zayani had met with Hadi on Wednesday, with the vice-president calling on "all Yemenis to respect the GCC efforts and what Zayani specifically is doing".

Zayani "affirmed that when conditions are more favourable then all sides will be ready to exert the efforts needed to overcome tension and achieve security and stability in Yemen," the report said.

Hadi also met with Jamal Benomar, a UN envoy, on Wednesday, the state news agency reported.

Benomar told the AFP news agency that he had also met with Maj-Gen Ahmar and opposition leaders, and that he would be remaining in the country in order to continue talks in hopes of "achiev[ing] a consensus" between all sides, including southern separatists.

He warned of "the risk of civil war breaking out if no political agreement is reached".

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said violence in Sanaa has reached "unprecedented" levels.

It cited "very worrying" reports of armed confrontations taking place at one of the main hospitals in the capital.

"[ICRC] called on Yemeni authorities, pro-democracy protesters and others involved in the violence to spare lives after scores were killed in the past 72 hours alone," Valerie Petitpierre, deputy head of the ICRC's delegation in Yemen, said in a statement on Tuesday.

The confrontation between former soldiers backing the protesters and government troops portends a new and even more violent phase in Yemen's eight-month standoff.

Saleh's forces have hit back by using rooftop snipers and shelling protest encampments.

The latest violence is the worst incident of bloodshed since a similar massacre killed 52 people in mid-March. 

President Saleh, who has been in power for 33 years, has since January faced protests over nepotism and corruption from reform activists inspired by the Arab Spring.

Saleh left the country three months ago for Saudi Arabia where he has been recovering from a June 3 attack on his presidential compound.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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