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The rebels, called Houthis, are followers of the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam, and the Saudis believe both that they have ties to Shiite-dominated Iran and have Al Qaeda members within their ranks. Saudi Arabia fears they may destabilize Yemen, posing a major security threat to the world's largest oil exporter, reports Reuters.
The fighting near Jabal al Dood began earlier this month after the rebels announced they had killed two Saudi border guards. Last week, nine Saudi soldiers were taken prisoner, apparently by Houthis. The Jeddah-based Arab News said Sunday they had reportedly turned up and were receiving medical treatment inside Yemen, but couldn't confirm those reports.
The Houthis have been battling the Yemeni government of Ali Abdullah Saleh since 2004, "citing political, economic and religious marginalization," reports Al Jazeera. The Houthis also accuse Saudi Arabia of allowing the Yemeni military to launch strikes against the rebels from within its territory, a claim denied by both nations, according to the BBC.
The Yemeni government launched a new offensive against the rebels in August 2009, the BBC says, leading to a wave of intense fighting. Reuters reports the Yemeni military tried to rout Houthi rebels near Saada, Yemen, leading up to the weekend.
According to PRESS TV of Iran, which denies any involvement with the Houthis, the rebels accuse Riyadh and the Yemeni government itself of funding Al Qaeda and Wahhabi extremists to help quell their resistance – countering the kingdom's claims.
The United Nations says over 175,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in northern Yemen, PRESS TV reports.