The violence erupted on October 30 when the Houthi rebels who
control much of the northern Saada province accused Salafis in the
town of Damaj of recruiting thousands of foreign fighters to prepare
to attack them.
The Salafis, who follow a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam, say
the foreigners are students seeking to deepen their knowledge of
Islam in the town's Dar al-Hadith seminary.
Surour al-Wadi'i, a Salafi spokesman, said the death toll among
Salafis had risen to 210, with 620 wounded. A spokesman for the
Houthis, Ali al-Bakhity, said no casualty figures were available for
Sectarian rivalry in Damaj has cast a shadow over reconciliation
efforts in Yemen, a neighbor of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and
home to one of al Qaeda's most active wings.
Fighting between the two sides in Saada and adjacent provinces
stopped as a ceasefire deal took hold on Saturday.
Several previous ceasefires have failed. The latest deal includes an
agreement by the Salafis to leave Damaj and move to the town of
Hadida and stipulates that the foreign students should go home,
according to the ceasefire document seen by Reuters.
It gives Yehia al-Hagouri, the Salafi leader and a signatory to the
ceasefire, four days to leave along with his followers.
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Wadi'i, the Salafi spokesman, criticized the deal saying it would
strengthen the hand of the Houthis, who belong to the Zaydi branch
of Shi'ite Islam, on all of Saada and eradicate any Sunni presence
in the province.
But Bakhity said the deal stipulates that militants from both sides — the Houthis and the Salafis — would leave Damaj.
"The (seminary) is open for the local (Sunni) students in Damaj...
This is a counter-campaign by some parties that don't want this deal
to work," he told Reuters by telephone.
Saada province, on the border with Saudi Arabia, is a base for the
Houthis' long-running rebellion against the government.
The Houthi-Salafi conflict has compounded the challenges facing
U.S.-allied Yemen, which is also grappling with a separatist
movement in the south.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari; writing by Rania El Gamal;
by Yara Bayoumy and Tom Heneghan)
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