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Yemen: Sana'a clashes escalate as Houthis advance - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Smokes rises from near the Yemeni Government TV building during clashes between Sunni militiamen and Shi'ite Houthi rebels in Sana'a, Yemen, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014.  (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Smokes rises from near the Yemeni Government TV building during clashes between Sunni militiamen and Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Sana’a, Yemen, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Sana’a remained on high alert on Saturday after tensions between Shi’ite Houthi rebels and government forces intensified, with Houthis shelling a state-run TV building and the government carrying out airstrikes against Houthi positions north of the capital.

Local media reported that Yemen’s state-run TV headquarters were still ablaze on Saturday after being hit by mortal fire on Friday, while Houthis had also seized the main route leading to Sana’a’s airport.

The conflict between government forces and allied tribes and the Shi’ite Houthi rebels deepened on Thursday when Houthi gunmen attacked an army position on the outskirts of Sana’a. The fighting escalated over the next 48 hours, with Houthis seeking to seize control of Yemen’s state television and parts of the capital and government forces attempting to repel the attacks.

Houthi fighters fired on a military aircraft north of Sana’a on Friday, local sources said. It was unclear whether the aircraft was downed or had been able to land at a nearby military airbase. Eye-witnesses informed Asharq Al-Awsat that clashes between Houthi fighters and government forces continued in the Shamlan district of the capital throughout Friday, leading to a number of deaths on both sides.

More than 100 Houthi gunmen were killed in the fighting on Thursday and Friday, mostly in clashes around the headquarters of Yemen’s state TV, a military source told Asharq Al-Awsat. Yemeni soldiers and security forces are prepared for all eventualities and waiting for more detailed orders regarding re-establishing security and stability in Sana’a, the source added.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi met with the ambassadors of G10 states on Friday to brief them on the latest developments. He described the recent escalation of violence in Sana’a as an “attempted coup” by the Houthis.

Houthis had initially taken to the streets in the capital as part of peaceful protests against a government fuel subsidy cut, however the demonstrations have slowly morphed into an armed conflict with the central Sana’a government. Hadi’s government has offered a number of concessions to end the unrest, including rolling back the fuel subsidy cut and offering the Houthis a bigger role in government, however the Shi’ite movement has, so far, rejected government overtures.

UN Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar has been meeting with both sides to try to secure a deal, with sources saying that the two sides had been close to reaching an agreement before the latest flare-up of violence.

“The Houthis are using these public demands to achieve something different on the ground,” Yemen’s President Hadi warned G10 ambassadors on Friday.

Also on Friday, Benomar called for an immediate end to the violence and a return to negotiations, calling for all parties to act “wisely.”

“I have had talks with Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi over the past two days trying to bridge the gap among the different parties and [we] agreed on a number of points to establish an agreement among the concerned parties to be based on the national dialogue conference,” Benomar told Yemen’s state-owned SABA news.

“Following the end of the talks late on Thursday, I learnt that the situation in Sana’a was deteriorating and I am displeased with the use of arms when we are endeavoring to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis,” he added.