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At least 5 killed in Yemen, tribal leaders say

From Hakim Almasmari, For CNN
Yemeni anti-government protesters shout slogans during a rally in Sanaa on July 8.
Yemeni anti-government protesters shout slogans during a rally in Sanaa on July 8.
  • Several people were wounded in the fighting
  • The clashes occurred just north of the capital
  • On Monday, an Obama adviser and Yemen's VP met

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Five Yemeni civilians were killed and 18 others were injured Tuesday in government air raids just outside Sanaa, tribal leaders and eyewitnesses said.

But two government officials said those killed were tribesmen who were taking up arms against the government.

The fighting, which occurred in Arhab province just north of Sanaa, is the latest to erupt in Yemen, which has been wracked by insurgent activity and anti-government ferment.

One of the government sources, a security official in Arhab, said that clashes erupted when the government ordered the tribes to hand over wanted criminals in the district. When the tribes refused, the government responded with force.

"The tribes are harboring criminals who stand behind the attacks on soldiers," the official said.

A Defense Ministry official said slain militants "put law in their own hands and looted governmental property. They were not civilians."

Eyewitnesses said that guards raided most of the villages in the district, damaging many homes, and residents estimate that more than 240 homes have been destroyed over the last month.

"We were sleeping in our houses when governmental rockets hit our house. We did not raise arms against the government but are still being attacked," said Abdul Kareem Mubarak, a resident in Barman village.

Republican guards have been clashing with tribesmen in Arhab over the last month.

The government also claims that the tribes attempted to seize the military compounds in the district.

The security official said that the tribes have injured more than 25 government soldiers during the last two weeks. "Our soldiers are being attacked. The government is trying to ensure law and order in Arhab district," the official said.

Residents blame the guards for randomly attacking civilian property in Arhab.

"The guards are attacking anything they see. Everyone is a target and people are displaced," said Abdullah Mansour, an Arhab resident who lost his home.

This comes after a surge of violence in a western Yemeni city overnight Monday.

Supporters of Yemen's president converged on a central square in Hodeidah and killed an anti-government protester and injured more than 150 others, according to witnesses and a medical team member.

The fighting around the city's Change Square was the bloodiest since May, and comes as tensions remain high between those who support President Ali Abdullah Saleh and those who have been demanding his ouster for months.

Saleh, who was injured in an attack on the presidential palace last month, is now being treated in Saudi Arabia.

John Brennan, U.S. President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, met Monday in Sanaa with Yemeni Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansoor Hadi, according to a report from Yemen's official Saba news agency.

Hadi is officially the nation's acting leader, though Saleh has indicated his intention to return to his homeland.

Brennan met with Saleh Sunday at a military hospital in Riyadh. Video of the meeting shows the Yemeni president wearing a suit jacket, his face still singed from the June 3 blast.

Brennan wished Saleh "a speedy recovery" but also "emphasized the importance of resolving the political crisis in Sanaa," the White House said in a statement on Sunday's meeting.

He urged Saleh to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council's political transition plan for Yemen, one that mandates that the president leaves the post he has held for many years.

Saleh has voiced agreement with the plan brokered by the regional council, but he has not signed it.

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