Prince Khalid bin Sultan continues inspection tours at southern boundaries with Yemen

Prince Khalid: We won’t dawdle on destroying any infiltrator into our own lands

Yemen rejects any resolution that would undermine its sovereignty – FM

Obama says won’t send U.S. boots on the ground to Yemen

Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General for Military affairs, paid a visit to his brothers and colleagues, the soldiers of the Armed Forces taking positions along southern boundaries.

During the visit, Prince Khalid conveyed greetings and gratitude of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, who wish the soldiers all success.

Prince Khalid reiterated the vows declared by King Abdullah that the Saudis would never intervene in other's internal matters, however, they would not allow anyone to commit aggression on the least part of their soils.

On the number of infiltrators, Prince Khalid bin Sultan said that in the past they used to come in large numbers; a hundred or two hundred they became much lower in the few past weeks except during the last 48 hours where they gathered trying to get through Al-Gabri but they were eliminated and destroyed completely, stressing that 'all our goals were achieved'.

On the decline of fighting on the tape of borders, Prince Khalid added that this happened thanks to Allah Almighty and the control of our armed forces which will continue its presence when there is an just one intruder.

On the special arrangements of the citizens of Al-Khuba province and the possibility of returning to their homes, Prince Khalid bin Sultan affirmed that the most important thing is to preserve their lives and providing security for them, pointing that the border's tape would not be safer for them, and for this reason the work in the project ordered by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to establish '10' thousands of housing units for them was kicked off, pointing to a committee chaired by Second Deputy Premier and Minister of the Interior to resolve this problem once and all.

As for the final statistics of the number of dead and wounded in the events, Prince Khalid said that ' I promised full transparency and I told you in the past that there are '73' martyrs and '26' missing and now the number of missing is ' 21' only after '05' bodies were found after clearing the area of Mountain of Rmeih, explaining that by finding these five bodies in addition to another '4' martyrs killed in the last two weeks, the total number of the martyrs reached to '82', while the wounded reached to 39 after they were 60.

Saudi Arabia claimed Tuesday that its security forces successfully ousted Yemeni Shiite rebels from a border village they had occupied since November, while regaining control over the area.

"The infiltrators have been eliminated from Al-Jabri and the whole district has been taken under control," state-owned Al-Ekhbariya television quoted Saudi deputy defense minister Prince Khalid bin Sultan as saying on Tuesday.

The minister also said that 82 Saudi soldiers have been killed and 21 others missing since the Kingdom launched a major offensive against the Yemeni Shiite rebels on 5th November, accusing the rebels of killing a Saudi soldier and occupying two border villages.

Separately, Yemeni officials said Tuesday that 15 Shiite rebels were killed in clashes with pro-government tribesmen north of the capital city of Sana’a. The clashes between the pro-government tribesmen and the rebels broke out in Al-Jawf province, east of the insurgent stronghold in Saada, when rebels tried to take control of a house belonging to the tribes.

Currently, the Yemeni security forces are engaged in a massive offensive against the Houthis. In August last year, the Sunni-dominated Yemeni government launched an offensive against the Shiite rebels in the north, aiming to crush the nearly 5-year-old rebel movement with an "iron fist."

The Shiite rebels, known as Houthis after their late commander Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, operate from their stronghold in Saada in the far northern mountains. The Houthis are in rebellion in northern Yemen to restore the Zaidi imamate that was overthrown in a coup in 1962.

The UN estimates that the recent fighting, which broke out on August 11 between the Yemeni security forces and the Shiite rebels, has forced more than 60,000 people to flee the region.

According to the UN, persistent fighting in and around the northern town of Saada has displaced over 200,000 people since 2004.

In addition to the Shiite rebels, Yemen is facing a strengthening separatist movement in its southern region, where many complain of discrimination. The separatist movement gained momentum a couple of years ago, when former southern military officials demanded higher pension payments after being forced into compulsory retirement.

The northern and southern regions of Yemen were two separate countries until they united in 1990. A civil war broke out just 4 years after unification when the south tried to break away unsuccessfully.

Yemen has also witnessed a series of attacks against foreign tourists and westerners in the recent past. The attacks, prompted mostly by al-Qaeda leaders to attack non-Muslim tourists in Yemen, have adversely affected tourism in the impoverished Arab country.

Hundreds of Yemeni Shiite rebels who infiltrated into Saudi Arabia have been slain by security forces, a Saudi defence official said.

Saudi state media said four Saudi soldiers were killed in the border clashes.

Separately, Yemeni forces killed 19 rebels in sweeps to rid the old quarter of the north Yemeni town Saada of Shiite rebel hideouts, Yemen’s Interior Ministry said. About 25 rebels were seized.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, came to the foreground of US-led efforts to battle militancy after a Yemen-based wing of al Qaeda said it was behind a failed December 25 plot to bomb a US-bound airliner.

Saudi Arabia launched its assault on Yemen’s Shiite Muslim rebels, known as Houthis, in the area near its border with Yemen in November after the insurgents killed two Saudi border guards in a cross-border incursion.

The latest deaths brought to 82 the number of Saudi troops killed in the fighting with the rebels, state television said. On December 22, Riyadh said 73 troops had been killed.

Saudi state television, citing Assistant Minister of Defence Prince Khalid bin Sultan, reported that Yemeni rebel infiltrators had been given an ultimatum to leave the al-Jabri area where the border post is located within 48 hours.

“They did not comply. All of them have been destroyed,” he said. “The infiltrators inflicted upon themselves hundreds of deaths”.

On their website, the rebels rejected Saudi claims of gaining control over al-Jabri as untrue and renewed an offer they had made last month to try to end the conflict if Saudi Arabia agrees to stop attacks on them.

The United States and Saudi Arabia fear al Qaeda will take advantage of Yemen’s instability to spread its operations to the neighbouring kingdom, the world’s top oil exporter, and beyond. Yemen itself produces a small amount of oil.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said it has gained the upper hand in the conflict but fighting has continued. Rebels have rejected the Saudi claims but reported many civilian deaths.

Yemen said that its operation against the rebels, dubbed “Blow to the Head”, was continuing. The rebels have fought the government since 2004, complaining of social, economic and religious marginalisation.

Yemen also faces separatist sentiment in the south and is fighting a resurgent al Qaeda in several provinces. Security forces chasing al Qaeda militants in Shabwa province arrested four suspects after a clash, a security official said.

Security forces were engaged in a clash with about 10 people who had fled to the house of a suspected al Qaeda militant, the official told Reuters.

The rebels, members of the minority Shiite Zaidi sect, have said they were the target of Saudi air strikes in recent days, and that their positions were often pounded by Yemeni mortars.

Rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said civilians were being targeted as a means of pressing rebels to end their fight.

“It is clear, brothers, that the enemies made the targeting (of) civilians a basic strategy, and are trying through that to pressure us,” Houthi said in a statement on the rebel website.

He cited a series of strikes in December that he said killed more than 50 women and children, and said civilians had been attacked previously in their homes, markets and mosques by US, Saudi and Yemeni planes in what he termed “joint aggression”.

“I call on you again to stop targeting civilians and stop your crimes against women and children... fight us with honour so as to retain a minimum of your humanity,” Houthi said.

The conflict in Yemen’s mountainous north has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands.

Yemen has also started talks with kidnappers holding a German family of five and a Briton, a Yemeni minister said.

“The negotiations are now going on with the kidnappers of the German and British hostages,” Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi told a news conference.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Sana’a on Monday that Yemeni authorities had located the German couple and their three children.

Most foreigners abducted by Yemeni tribal groups to press the government to meet local demands have been freed unharmed. But gunmen killed two Belgian women in 2008 in an ambush authorities blamed on al Qaeda.

The German family and the Briton were among a group of nine foreigners kidnapped in the northern province of Saada, where Shiite rebels are fighting government troops. The rebels have denied they were responsible.

Three women from the group — two Germans and a South Korean — were later found dead.

Germany’s mass-selling Bild newspaper cited an unnamed government official on December 23 as saying the German government had received a video which showed the three children, aged between one and five years, alive but looking exhausted.

Qirbi said Sana’a would call at a London conference on Yemen later this month for international support to rebuild its infrastructure, fight poverty and create jobs, not just help in combating militants.

Meanwhile, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Stockholm came under attack last night by an unidentified assailant, who threw a Molotov cocktail targeting a window overlooking the street.

The incident did not cause any injury to the embassy staff or damage the building itself nor did not affect the workflow, an official source in the embassy said.

Right after the incident, the Embassy contacted the concern Swedish authorities, which began conducting investigations about the immediate circumstances of the incident.

In Sana'a, Yemeni security forces killed a suspected member of al-Qaeda and captured four others in a raid on a house in the southern province of Shabwa, the official state news agency Saba reported Wednesday.

The agency identified the slain suspect as Abdullah al-Mehdar.

It said he was killed Tuesday night when anti-terrorism forces stormed his home in Mayfa'ah district of Shabwa.

Police also seized weapons in the raid, the report said.

Saba later reported two police troopers were killed after a road side bomb exploded as a police vehicle drove through a mountainous road near Ataq, the provincial capital of Shabwa late Tuesday.

Shabwa is located about 570 km south-east of the capital Sana'a.

The interior ministry said anti-terrorism forces captured four suspected operatives of Al Qaeda, aged 20-45, in the raid.

It said in a statement the suspects were meeting to plan 'terrorist operations against vital facilities in the province'. It did not provide further details about the alleged targets.

The country's main LNG exporting port of Balhaf is about 50 km from Mayfa'ah.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said his country needs security assistance from the United States and other allies to help combat al-Qaeda militants, but only economic rescue can ensure success in the long term, Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said on Wednesday.

The impoverished Arab country has drawn close international scrutiny since a Yemen-based al Qaeda wing said it was behind a botched December 25 attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner.

"Our security agencies are capable of tackling terrorist threats," Qirbi told Reuters in response to emailed questions, adding that anti-terrorism and coastguard units needed outside support in training, equipment and exchange of intelligence.

"However, a security or military solution is not sufficient. So the international community has to pay more attention to the economic and development needs of Yemen and this is the concrete approach for tackling terrorism," Qirbi said.

Islamist militancy, such as that espoused by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is only one of myriad economic and security challenges facing President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

A Shiite revolt in the north and southern secessionism are other symptoms of central government weakness in a country where rampant corruption and declining oil income undermine any effort to tackle poverty, unemployment and failing water resources.

Qirbi said the number of al Qaeda militants in Yemen had been exaggerated and probably did not exceed 300.

Al-Qaeda’s stated support for northern rebels and southern separatists showed "a kind of coordination between these three parties despite their different ideologies," the minister said.

"What brings them together is their hostility to the government. Besides, the former jihadist Tariq al-Fadhli is a now a leader of the southern movement, and (is) harbouring some al Qaeda militants in their areas."

The northern rebels, known as Houthis after their leaders' clan, deny links to al Qaeda, as does the Southern Movement at the forefront of unrest in the once-independent south.

Saleh recruited Fadhli and other Yemenis who had fought in Afghanistan to help government forces crush an attempted southern breakaway in 1994. Fadhli, a tribal leader from the south, switched allegiance to the secessionists in 2008.

Such past deals with militants and U.S. perceptions of Yemeni laxity in tackling al Qaeda have long made Washington reluctant to repatriate Yemenis still detained at its Guantanamo prison.

Six were sent home in December, but the United States suspended any further repatriation of about 90 remaining Yemeni Guantanamo inmates after the Christmas Day airliner attack.

Qirbi said Yemen was committed to fighting terrorism and would pursue efforts to get its nationals back.

"We keep saying to the Americans that we are ready to receive our Yemeni detainees back from Guantanamo and those who are accused of any terrorist acts will be brought to justice."

He said Yemen had in earlier years combated al Qaeda with security measures and with dialogue that aimed to wean jailed militants off their violent ideology and rehabilitate them.

"Intellectual dialogue with them proved to be somewhat effective," Qirbi said, arguing that Yemen lacked the resources needed to maintain adequate rehabilitation programmes.

Yemen's wealthy neighbour Saudi Arabia has invested much effort and money into rehabilitating militants. Although some have later rejoined al Qaeda, the Saudi programme has enjoyed more success than the one Yemen pioneered, analysts say.

Qirbi said Yemen would attend an international conference in London on January 28 that would focus on helping build Yemeni anti-terrorism capabilities and development assistance.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this month development aid was vital to counter the spread of militancy among young people who "see a future with no jobs, no hope and no way ever to catch up to the developed world."

But she acknowledged that the odds of success were long in countries like Yemen -- whose 23 million population, of whom 45 percent are children under 14, is set to double in 20 years. "The real approach for combating terror in Yemen must look into the economic difficulties Yemen is facing," Qirbi said.

"We must work together to treat those difficulties through a long-term mechanism."

U.S. President Barack Obama said he has "no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground" to Yemen and Somalia amid mounting concern about terrorist cells in those countries.

In excerpts of an interview with People magazine released on Sunday, Obama said that the "border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains the epicenter of Al Qaeda," though he acknowledged that the group's branch in Yemen has become "a more serious problem."

But his administration is seeking to emphasize international cooperation, rather than military action, to confront the problem in Yemen.

"I never rule out any possibility in a world that is this complex," said Obama. But, he added, "In countries like Yemen, in countries like Somalia, I think working with international partners is most effective at this point."

In November, the president announced he would send 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorists. But less than a month later, the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula suddenly came into focus when a Nigerian man who unsuccessfully tried to blow up a plane near Detroit on Christmas Day said he had received help from Islamists in Yemen.

As with the situation in Pakistan, fighting extremist strongholds in Yemen puts the United States government in a difficult position. Yemeni leaders have made it clear over the past week that they do not want American forces on their soil.

However, security experts say that the government might be too weak to effectively fight the terrorist elements. Instead, the U.S. has sent $70 million in military aid to the country – a figure it plans to double this year – and Yemen has stepped up raids against militant outposts in recent months.

Obama's remarks echoed those of his top military commanders in recent days. In an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria earlier this week, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said sending U.S. troops to Yemen is "not a possibility."

And in an interview that aired Sunday with the network's Christiane Amanpour, General David H. Petreaus said he also does not want to send American forces to Yemen. "We would always want a host nation to deal with a problem itself," he said.

In playing down any talk of American military intervention in Yemen, the Obama administration is apparently trying to strike a conciliatory tone to people in the region.

"One of the things that we have to understand is that unlike a traditional war, the threats that we face and our allies face are not always going to be centered or localized in a particular geographic area, but are rather networks that are connecting over cyberspace," Obama said.

"And how we project ourselves to the world, the message we send to Muslim communities around the world, the overwhelming majority of which reject Al Qaeda but where a handful of individuals may be moved by a jihadist ideology, what counter-messaging we have to them -- all those things -- continue to be extraordinarily important."

He added, "We can't return to sort of a garrison-state notion that we're just going to hunker down and this is only an issue of firepower and boots on the ground."