SANAA — Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh accused Shiite northern rebels of taking money from Iranians and of plotting to create a Shiite zone along the Saudi borders.
"These are outlaws and terrorists... who are in the pay of foreign forces and execute a foreign agenda," Saleh said, according to a text issued on Monday by state news agency Saba of a television interview.
"Their finances come from certain Iranian dignatories... but we do not accuse the government," he said, citing documents seized and confessions of rebels captured during the fighting between the army and the rebels, which has been raging since early August.
The Zaidi rebels, known also as Huthis, have repeatedly denied being backed by Tehran.
Saleh also said that the rebels appear to have gone through combat training similar to that of Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah militia, which fought a fierce guerilla war with Israel in the summer of 2006 in south Lebanon.
"They have been trained in the same manner followed by Hezbollah in south Lebanon," he said, pointing to unconfirmed reports of the presence of "trainers from southern Lebanon in Saada," the rebels' stronghold.
The Zaidi rebels are trying to establish a "Shiite zone" along the Yemen-Saudi border with the aim of harming both countries, the president said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki postponed a scheduled visit to Yemen on Sunday due to a scheduling problem.
Saleh also claimed that the Huthi rebels have ties with the Al-Qaeda regional network, which has recently regrouped in Yemen, and with separatists in the south who are demanding their own breakaway state.
A link exists between Al-Qaeda and the Huthis, and between them and the southern movement," he said.
"I do not think that they have the same agenda or the same principles, but they share the same adversary: the political system of the Yemeni republic," he added.
Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded since the army launched Operation Scorched Earth on August 11 with the aim of crushing the five-year rebellion.
Tens of thousands have fled their homes in the mountainous northern districts where fighting is fiercest, resulting in a humanitarian crisis complicated by a dire shortage of food and other basic necessities.
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