Saudi Arabia says that three of its soldiers have been killed and more than a dozen wounded in operations to regain control of a mountainous area inside its territory seized earlier in the week by Yemeni rebels.
“The situation is reassuring,” Prince Khaled bin Sultan, assistant minister of defence and aviation was quoted as saying in the Saudi Press Agency on Saturday.”All what they previously controlled in Mount Dokhan has been completely controlled, even if there are some infiltrations in some posts.’’
Three Saudi soldiers were killed, and 16 others were wounded in the fighting, he added. Four others are missing, but they had not been captured as claimed by the Houthis, a Yemeni Shia militia, he said.
Saudi officials said last week that the Houthi rebels killed a border guard and wounded 11 others in the Mount Dokhan region on the kingdom’s southern borders with Yemen. Saudi armed forces had previously launched air strikes against the Houthi militants.
Prince Khaled said the operations will continue to ride the area of what he called “gangs”, but only within the Saudi territories.
On Friday Saudi Arabia confirmed that it had carried out air raids against “infiltrators” from Yemen, but said the operations took place within Saudi territory.
The attacks raised concerns about the possibility that the kingdom, the world's top oil exporter and an important western ally, might be directly drawn into the struggle between the Yemeni government and Shia rebels based in the north, close to the border with Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi government adviser said on Thursday that the kingdom had launched a sustained air campaign against rebel posts inside Yemen after a group crossed into Saudi Arabia and attacked Saudi border guards.
The Houthis have previously accused Saudi Arabia of backing Yemen’s military campaign, but Sana has dismissed the claims. The Yemeni government, meanwhile, has accused Iran of providing support to the rebels and sought to portray the war as part of broader Shia-Sunni tensions in the Middle East.
The rebels took up arms in 2004 complaining of economic and political marginalisation. The latest round of fighting erupted in August when the government launched a military offensive against their positions. The violence has exacerbated regional and western concerns about the stability of Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country, which some fear is sliding towards being a failing state.
Saudi Arabia is particularly concerned because its shares a long, mountainous and porous border with Yemen and fears that Saudi militants linked to al-Qaeda could take advantage of the lawlessness to regroup in its southern neighbour and launch attacks into the kingdom.
A Saudi militant returning from Yemen blew himself up in August in an assassination attempt against Prince Mohamed bin Naif, the deputy interior minister for security affairs.
As well as the Shia rebellion in the north, Sana is battling secessionists in the south and the government has little control in rural areas.