Yemeni Shiite rebels said clashes had broken out between Yemeni rebels and Saudi forces trying to build a border fence, with several killed and injured on both sides.

There was no Saudi reaction to the report. Earlier, the insurgents accused Saudi forces of opening fire into the same area in support of the Yemeni government's offensive against them. A Yemeni security official denied the report then, saying Saudi Arabia had no role in the war.

The Yemeni army and Houthi rebels have been fighting what is now referred to as the sixth Sa’ada war, for over 6 weeks. Aid groups say around 150,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which first broke out in 2004. Media and aid groups have been given little access to the war zone, making it almost impossible to corroborate conflicting claims.

24 Oct 2009



Analysis and Forecast: increasing risk

The reports of clashes between Saudi forces and Houthi rebels is an escalation in the geographical extent of the conflict and threatens to spill into Saudi Arabia. Although the rebels have been accused of receiving Iranian support by the Yemeni government, which in turn gets military support from Saudi Arabia, there has not been direct confrontation between the rebels and Saudi’s.

As the situation in Yemen started a rapid deterioration, Saudi Arabia announced it was building a fence along its porous border with Yemen. Saudi Arabia has a sizeable Shiite minority near its Yemeni border and also in the Eastern Province. The construction of the fence was expected to cause local tensions as it will separate families on either side of the border, who are used to relatively free crossing. Saudi authorities have tried to appease the residents on the Saudi side (by granting state land and governance reforms) but the clash with the Yemeni rebels demonstrates the increasing tension between the wider Shiite community and the Saudi authorities. At a time when the Iranian government is accused of meddling in Saudi affairs, it is expected that unless drastic confidence building measures are taken between the Shiites on the Saudi side of the border (as well as in the Eastern Province in the longer-term), there will be increasing unrest amongst the Shiite community of Saudi Arabia.

The figure shows the make-up of the Saudi population: