SANAA, Dec 29 (Reuters) - The Yemeni government and Shi’ite rebels reported new fighting on Tuesday in the north of the poor Arab country, where the United States and Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda will exploit instability to prepare attacks.
Yemen, a neighbour of Saudi Arabia, was thrown into focus when the regional wing of al Qaeda said it was behind an attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger plane on Christmas Day.
The Yemeni Defence Ministry said on its website on Tuesday government troops attacked rebel positions and hideouts in the al-Malahidh area in the mountainous province of Saada, the scene of heavy fighting for months.
The rebels, known as Houthis after their leaders’ clan name, said on their website Saudi planes had flown 16 sorties, adding that the al-Malahidh area among others had been shelled.
The rebels often report attacks by Yemeni and Saudi fighter planes. Riyadh is an ally of Yemen but denies providing military aid, saying it only defends its own territory against rebels.
The reports could not be verified as journalists and aid workers have limited access to the conflict area. Saudi officials could not be immediately reached.
Yemen faces a Shi’ite rebellion in the north, a separatist movement in the south and attacks by al Qaeda, and political analysts say there is a danger the impoverished country bordering the world’s biggest oil exporting region may become a failed state.
On Monday, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said it had provided the Nigerian man suspected of trying to blow up a U.S. passenger plane with a "technically advanced device" and told Americans to expect more attacks.
Shi’ite rebels launched a rebellion in 2004, complaining of social, economic and religious marginalisation. Both the rebels and the government deny their aims are sectarian.
The conflict drew in neighbouring Saudi Arabia last month after rebels staged a cross-border incursion into the world’s biggest oil exporter.
The rebels often report attacks by Yemeni and Saudi fighter planes. Riyadh is an ally of Yemen’s but denies providing it with military aid, saying it only defends its own territory against rebels. (Writing by Ulf Laessing; editing by Andrew Dobbie)