They claim to have driven the Shia rebels out of the last Saudi frontier area that they had been holding.
Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the Saudi Assistant Defence Minister, said that Houthi forces had been given two days to withdraw from the border post area of al-Jabri but did not comply with the ultimatum.
“All of them have been destroyed,” he said, claiming that hundreds of the rebels — named after their leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi — had been killed. There was no independent verification of the numbers of casualties in the area, which is closed to the outside world, with only a few aid groups allowed to enter. The Saudi military said that it had lost four soldiers in the clashes, bringing total losses for the kingdom to 82, with 21 missing, since Riyadh launched its offensive against the rebels in November.
“They have to go back to reason and realise that their capabilities” remain modest compared to Saudi Arabia, he said. But senior Yemeni officials, as well as other Arab intelligence agencies, believe that Iran is backing the Houthis, who are fellow Shias but of a different branch of the sect. They are however united with Iran by their visceral hatred of the United States. Yemen has also hinted they may have logistical links with al-Qaeda-related groups operating in the Horn of Africa, across the narrow Gulf of Aden.
In a separate battle, Yemeni troops said that they had killed 19 Houthi fighters in a battleinside the country’s borders. The Houthi insurgency, inspired by a perceived lack of political and economic freedoms by the rebels, is seen by Yemen’s Government as the most pressing threat to national security, although the United States is leaning on it heavily to devote more resources to fighting al-Qaeda militants who are rallying in the southeast of the country.
The Government is also facing growing secessionist calls in the south, which was a separate state until 1990 and whose citizens complain that their natural oil and gas reserves are enriching the regime which has neglected the interests of the south.