Fierce fighting in Yemeni capital kills 120

Shi'ite rebels and Sunni militiamen battled in the streets of the Yemeni capital for a second day on Friday in fighting that has killed at least 120 people, driven thousands from their homes and virtually shut down the country's main airport.

Sana'a: Shi'ite rebels and Sunni militiamen battled in the streets of the Yemeni capital for a second day on Friday in fighting that has killed at least 120 people, driven thousands from their homes and virtually shut down the country's main airport.

The battles are raising fears of greater sectarian conflict, unseen for decades in Yemen.

Yemen has been chronically unstable for years. But its main fight has been by the government against al Qaeda militants who operate in the south and the mountainous centre of the country.

In the past few months, however, the Shi'ite rebels known as the Hawthis have become one of the country's most powerful players.

They surged from their stronghold in the north, taking a string of cities and have fought to the capital, Sana`a.

Their main opponent has been Sunni Muslim hardliners, militias and army units allied with the Islah party, which is the Muslim Brotherhood's branch in Yemen, or tribal fighters sympathetic with the Brotherhood or al Qaeda.

The government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, an ally of the United States, appears largely caught in the middle between the two forces.

After taking control of the Sana'a suburb of Shamlan this week, Hawthi fighters yesterday launched an assault on the Sunni hardliners' stronghold, Iman University, which is seen as a breeding ground for militants.

Today, the Hawthis attacked the nearby headquarters of state TV, trying to storm the building, which the night before they hit with mortars, witnesses said.

"Every minute, there is something rattling or bombing, either rocket-propelled grenades or machine guns. The wall hangings fell down. The house was shaking with every explosion," Ammar Ahmed, who lives near the university, said of fighting overnight.

Army units joined Islah gunmen in fighting the rebels.

Bloodied bodies lay in the streets next the charred vehicles in front of the university, said another resident of the area, Ahmed Ibrahim. Hawthis tried to take a hill overlooking the university but were driven back by artillery fire, witnesses said.

Fighting also spread to the Massbah district, where Hawthis targeted house of Gen Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, an ally of the Islamists who led the military against the Hawthi rebellion in the north from 2004 to 2010.

At least 120 people, predominantly fighters from either side, were killed over the past 24 hours, according to medical officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press.

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