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Eyewitnesses: 26 killed in Yemen clashes

By Hakim Almasmari, CNN
  • Villages were struck by air attacks, witnesses say
  • The government says it is outlaws who attack public property, cause chaos
  • Among the dead are 17 children and women, witnesses say

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Fighting between local tribes and government forces in Yemen left at least 26 people dead on Tuesday, eyewitnesses said, confrontations that killed mostly civilians.

The battles occurred 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) northeast of the capital of Sanaa in the Arhab district.

Republican guard air attacks bombarded villages, eyewitnesses said.

Eyewitnesses said that at least 17 of the dead were children and women, while only nine tribal fighters were among the killed.

They said that at least a dozen fighters were also injured.

At least 45 tanks and armored vehicles were seen entering Arhab villages over early morning Tuesday, tribal leaders in the area said.

"The government is fighting its own people using air crafts and tanks to kill us," said Ahmed Abu Ghanem, a tribal leader in Arhab district.

The government insists it is attacking only outlaws and criminals.

"The government is fighting those who attack public property and (are) causing chaos in the area," said Abdu Ganadi, a Yemeni government representative.

The spokesman did not comment on the civilian death toll when was asked by CNN.

Tribal fighters in Arhab said that they have killed more than 16 republican guards over the last two days, claiming the government is hiding its death toll out of fear their troops would withdraw.

Eyewitnesses said they saw at least five damaged tanks on the roads leading to Arhab villages.

"The troops are killing civilians and families and not fighters. They cannot fight man to man," said Abdullah Mohammed, a tribal fighter in Arhab's Shaab village.

Most of the Arhab attacks were in Shaab village, where the government says outlaws took over governmental complexes and raided its military camps.

"The government forces cannot stay quiet when criminals attempt to takeover its military bases and put laws in their own hands," said Ganadi.

Arhab has seen nonstop clashes over the last two months after tribal leaders went against the government claiming that it killed four tribal members in an effort to create unrest in the district.

"We will not stay quiet and watch the government kill our loved ones. We are fighting for our lives, families, and dignities," said Abu Ghanem.

Yemen has been beset for months by anti-government ferment, militant activity and government battles with tribes.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh and other top Yemeni officials were badly injured in June during an assassination attempt on the presidential palace amid a tribal revolt against his 32-year rule. Saleh was taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment.

The United States has been aiding Yemen's military in its fight against Islamic militants amid fears that al Qaeda is exploiting the political chaos and leadership vacuum engulfing the unstable and impoverished Arabian Peninsula country.