Fighting rages in Yemen capital despite UN talk of deal
SANAA - Agence France-Presse
Smoke rises from an area where Shi'ite Houthi rebels are fighting against government forces in Sanaa September 21, 2014. REUTERS PhotoFighting raged in the Yemeni capital on Sept. 21 despite an announcement by the UN envoy that pro-government forces and Shiite rebels were poised to sign a deal.
The shelling and gunfire in the north of Sanaa was heard across the capital, as Sunni Islamist militiamen battled the rebels prompting an exodus of terrified residents, an AFP correspondent reported.
A week of fighting between the two sides has left dozen of people dead and forced the suspension of all flights into or out of Sanaa airport, which lies within the battle zone.
There was no let-up in the fighting during the night despite an after-dark curfew ordered by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
The fighting centred on the campus of Al-Iman University, a bastion of Sunni Islamists that the Shiite rebels have been trying to capture, witnesses said.
It came despite the announcement by UN envoy Jamal Benomar late on Saturday that a deal had been reached after "intense consultations with all the political parties, including (rebel movement) Ansarullah."
Benomar did not specifically mention a ceasefire nor did he say when the deal would be signed, although he said preparations were under way for the signing.
He said the accord will be a "national document that will advance the path of peaceful change, and will lay the foundations for national partnership and for security and stability in the country".
He said he regretted the continuing bloodshed and reiterated that the "time has now come to overcome narrow interests and that the higher national interest should prevail".
Forces allied to the government have been battling to halt the rebels, who swept into Sanaa from their mountain stronghold in the far north last month and set up armed protest camps across the capital to press their demands.
Hadi has called the rebel offensive a "coup attempt".
He has agreed to involve the rebels in the formation of a new government to replace the unpopular administration that imposed austerity measures, including a fuel price hike, earlier this year.
He has also agreed to partially reverse the price hike.
But the rebels have demanded posts in key state institutions as part of a push for greater political clout.
The fighting in the north of the capital has raged continuously since Thursday when nearly 40 people were killed in a single day.
Two prominent opponents of the rebels -- Islamist cleric Abdel Majid al-Zindani and General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, an army commander whose troops played a prominent role in a 2011 uprising that forced veteran strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh from power -- are both inside the Al-Iman University campus, multiple sources said.
Residents of northern districts have begun to flee their homes, an AFP correspondent reported. The streets of the capital were largely deserted as shops remained closed and the education ministry ordered schools to suspend lessons indefinitely.
Sanaa University told students to stay on holiday until mid-October after its campus was hit by shelling.
One of the capital's main markets, the Ali Mohsen Souk, has been closed for three days, which residents said had started to cause problems in obtaining fruit and vegetables.
Yemen has been swept by political turmoil ever since Saleh was forced from power.
Al-Qaeda loyalists have carried out persistent deadly attacks on the security forces while separatist protests have rocked the formerly independent south.
The rebels hail from the Zaidi Shiite community, a minority in the mostly Sunni nation but the majority community in the northern highlands, including the Sanaa region.
Also known as Huthis from the name of their leading family, they have battled the government on and off for a decade from their stronghold of Saada in the far north.