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The Yemeni government has rejected calls to return to peace talks with Shiite rebels fighting a five-year campaign in the north, and will continue its military operations that have so far killed hundreds and failed to quell the rebellion. The conflict, together with a separatist movement in the south, threatens to destabilize the country and make it more susceptible to becoming a haven for militant groups, including Al Qaeda.
The government's commitment to its campaign comes amid a new bout of fighting on Thursday. Saba, Yemen's official news agency, reports that Yemeni forces killed 17 rebels and captured four others Thursday in the Saada province, where the rebellion is centered. But the Associated Press writes that the Houthis claimed they were able to repel the government's attack and inflicted a "large loss of life." The fresh fighting came just a week after the government declared a cease-fire for humanitarian reasons that ended after less than a day. More than 16,000 Yemenis have been displaced by the fighting, with thousands more unable to escape the conflict zone.
Yemen has been fighting the Houthi rebels, named for their late leader Hussein al-Houthi, intermittently since 2004. The Sunni government has painted the Houthis, who are members of the moderate Shia Zaydi sect, as extremists in the Al Qaeda mold, The Christian Science Monitor reported in a background piece on the conflict. The Houthis, however, say that they are protecting their regional culture from attack by the government. They also complain of being marginalized and discriminated against by the government.
The Economist writes that although the Houthis are outnumbered by government forces, "much of the reason for their success lies with the [Yemeni] army itself."
The ongoing conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis among those displaced by the fighting, writes Voice of America. Some 150,000 people are in need of aid, but continued fighting and mined roads prevent humanitarian groups from reaching them, according to the World Food Program. United Press International reports that during the Yemeni government's ceasefire last week to allow humanitarian groups to reach those in need, Houthi mines prevented the aid from getting through.
The country's unrest has already involved other regional powers – Yemen accuses Iran of backing the Houthi rebels, and Iran has accused Saudi Arabia, a staunch Yemeni ally, of launching attacks on the rebels from Saudi territory, as The Christian Science Monitor reported. Al Qaeda has also become a growing force in the tiny, impoverished nation after the Yemen and Saudi branches of the terrorist group joined forces in January.