SANAA — Shiite rebels in northern Yemen caught between a deadly government onslaught and air raids from across the border on Monday alleged Saudi warplanes were using phosphorus bombs against them.
"The Saudi air raids resumed this morning. Saudi combat fighter jets launched intense raids against border areas inside Yemeni territory on Sunday night," rebel spokesman Mohammad Abdessalam told AFP by telephone.
"The Saudi military used phosphorus bombs during those night raids, burning mountainous regions."
A Saudi government adviser who asked not to be named rejected the claim, saying what the rebels saw was merely flares.
Abdessalam said the raids targeted Malaheez, seven kilometres (3.8 miles) inside Yemen, as well as the border villages of Hassameh and Shida and several villages around Jebel al-Dukhan mountain which straddles the border.
But Saudi aircraft could not defeat the group's fighters who "do not have fixed positions," the rebel spokesman said.
"We are still present in Jebel al-Dukhan," he said, denying allegations Riyadh has taken control of the inhospitable mountainous area. "We expect a ground attack."
Saudi authorities insist attacks by their forces are limited to targeting rebel locations inside Saudi territory.
The rebels on Monday posted a video on the Internet of a man it said was a Saudi prisoner, together with his ID which they said was issued by Saudi security forces.
The man, named as Corporal Ahmed Abdullah Mohammed al-Amri, 27, is a member of special forces based in Tabouk, northern Saudi Arabia, according to the video on a website used by the rebels.
The man, looking weary and speaking in a faint voice, is shown receiving treatment for facial injuries in the video, whose authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
The rebels have said they are holding several Saudis, while Riyadh's deputy defence minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan said four soldiers were missing but had not been captured.
The Saudi government adviser denied the charges that Saudi military used phosphorous munitions against the rebels. "We used flares, not phosphorus," he told AFP.
He also said the kingdom is scaling back its assaults on the rebels, of whom it says it has captured 200 or more.
"The actual heavy shelling of the area is all finished," he added. "There are now tactical units deployed there. We want to make sure they (the rebels) are neutralised."
The Saudi cabinet on Monday stressed the kingdom would not "tolerate any violation of the sovereignty of its territory," in a statement issued at the end of its weekly meeting.
According to a provisional Saudi toll, three soldiers and four other Saudis have now been killed in the fighting.
In Paris, the French foreign ministry, meanwhile, condemned any violation of Saudi sovereignty and called for a political settlement to the conflict in Yemen.
Prince Khaled, the Saudi deputy defence minister, said the kingdom's army had "purged the mountains on the Saudi side" of the border, and that it "did not cross and will not cross the Yemeni frontier."
The Saudi adviser said Saudi authorities are holding "large numbers" of Huthi fighters. "We are counting in the hundreds the fighters who have given themselves up," he said.
Riyadh has said it launched reprisals against the Yemen-based Zaidi rebels also known as Huthis after they attacked Jebel al-Dukhan, killing one Saudi border guard and wounding 11 others.
The rebels have also accused the Sanaa military of using phosphorus bombs in its Operation Scorched Earth, launched on August 11 against their stronghold in the country's northern province of Saada.
Sanaa says its forces do not possess such weapons in their arsenal.
Phosphorous bombs burst into flames on contact with oxygen. Under international law, white phosphorus is banned for use near civilians because it can cause severe burns, but it is permitted for creating a smokescreen.
For the second consecutive day, the Yemeni army on Monday did not give details about military operations along the Saudi border.
The rebels said in a statement on their website earlier the same day that the Yemeni army had attacked their positions in Harf Sufyan, around their Saada stronghold.
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