SANAA — Shiite rebels have captured 200 Yemeni soldiers in the country's north where deadly fighting between the rebels and army-backed tribes is endangering a fragile truce, a military official said on Tuesday.
"Huthi (rebels) captured 200 soldiers," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that "these soldiers belong to regiment 72 of the army's republican guard."
On Monday, another military official told AFP that the Shiite rebels had captured some 70 soldiers after they seized a strategic army post in Al-Zaala, a day after six soldiers were killed in fighting between the rebels and a government-backed tribe in the tense north.
Al-Zaala in Amran province controls the road between the Yemeni capital Sanaa and the rebels' stronghold of Saada.
The rebels' spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam declined to confirm or deny that soldiers were captured.
"It might be true that there are prisoners, but no information is available on either their number or their fate," he said.
The rebels transferred the imprisoned soldiers to the north-eastern regions of Matra and Naqaa, the rebels' main strongholds, a tribal source told AFP.
On Monday, fighting erupted after a truce negotiated on Saturday foundered over differences "about control of a position held by men of the Bin Aziz tribe," according to a mediator.
He said tribal chief Sheikh Saghir Aziz had rejected rebel demands to pull out his men from Al-Zaala but without handing over the position to the army.
Following Monday's battles, however, the tribe relented and moved to an area north of Al-Amsheya, a tribal source said.
Both Aziz and his son have been injured in the fighting, the source added, denying earlier reports that the man's son had been killed.
Nine days of fighting in Al-Amsheya have left "at least 200 dead among the Huthis and 30 among the army and Bin Aziz tribe," a tribal source said. Other tribal sources and MPs gave a similar toll.
But Abdul Salam said the toll was "highly exaggerated."
A rebel meanwhile told AFP "the Huthis recovered on Tuesday the bodies of 17 of their men, including that of a rebel leader, Abu Haidar, from rubble surrounding the house of Sheikh Saghir Aziz" in Al-Maqam, near Al-Zaala.
Abdul Salam told AFP that the situation in Al-Amsheya was relatively calm on Tuesday and that the road linking Sanaa to Saada was reopened.
"The fall of Al-Zaala is likely to bring peace and stability into the region," he had said on Monday. "We do not intend to pursue fighting... We want peace."
The clashes which erupted on July 18 have rattled an already fragile truce agreed in February that ended a six-month round of fighting in the conflict between the rebels and the army, which started in 2004.
The Huthis and the government blame one another of violating the truce.
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