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Security forces loyal to Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh clashed for the first time Wednesday with forces loyal to former Army Gen. Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, who defected weeks ago to support antigovernment protesters.
The rebel security forces were running a checkpoint outside Yemen's capital, Sanaa, when members of the Republican Guard and Central Security Forces – both loyal to Mr. Saleh – seized control of the checkpoint. The resulting battle left two soldiers dead, the BBC reported.
General Ahmar, Saleh's half-brother, announced on March 21 that his soldiers would begin protecting antigovernment demonstrators and joined the opposition's calls for Saleh to step down. Several high-ranking military officials followed Ahmar, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
With the rival military factions now vying for control of Sanaa, the risk of a confrontation is high and could lead the country down the path to civil war.
Saleh has threatened to "drag the country into a 'long, bloody civil war'" if military forces continue supporting the antigovernment protesters, according to The Washington Post. The rebel soldiers have started taking control of sections of Sanaa, setting up checkpoints along the main road running to the country's main airport and the state television station.
The main base of Ahmar's troops is located along the road, as is the base of the Republican Guard, still loyal to Saleh, the Post reported.
Yemeni political analyst Abdul Ghani al-Iryani told the Post "it is only a matter of time" before rebel forces take control of the airport and television station. At that point, "there is no way to prevent further clashes."
Clashes occurred during protests elsewhere in the country as well – in Taiz, Hodeida, and Aden, where two were killed. Xinhua is reporting that about 10,000 Yemeni security forces defected today and joined Ahmar's forces, although those reports are unconfirmed by other media outlets.