Truce collapses in Yemen as U.S. coordinates with GCC, EU to press Saleh

Dozens killed or wounded in Taiz as West condemns violence

International organizations propose banishing both Saleh and Ahmar

Yemeni army fighting al-Qaeda gunmen in Zinjibar

A tenuous truce in Yemen has broken down between tribal groups and forces loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, prompting new street fighting in the capital and bringing the country closer to civil war.

Global powers have been pressing Saleh to sign a Gulf-led deal to handover power to try to stem the growing chaos in Yemen, home to al Qaeda militants and neighbor to the world's biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia.

"The ceasefire agreement has ended," a government official said Tuesday adding that tribal groups have gained control of a government building.

Overnight battles in the capital brought an end to the truce brokered at the weekend. More than 115 people were killed last week in urban battles with machine guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades in the bloodiest fighting since anti-government protests began months ago.

In the capital Sanaa, several explosions were heard over the staccato of machine guns in the district of Hasaba, the scene of week-long fighting between Saleh's forces and tribesmen.

"Last night's clashes were the fiercest so far, my children and I couldn't sleep all night because of the heavy shooting," Mohammed al-Quraiti, a Hasaba resident, told Reuters.

The fighting last week between members of the powerful Hashed tribe led by Sadeq al-Ahmar and Saleh's security forces widened to areas outside the capital where tribesmen squared off against Saleh's elite Republican Guard.

Opposition forces have called for nationwide protests later Tuesday. Saleh's forces this week broke up similar protests in Taiz, about 200 km (120 miles) south of the capital, by firing on crowds and running over demonstrators with bulldozers, killing at least 15 and wounding hundreds.

In an ominous sign, residents said soldiers had again opened fire on protesters in Taiz Tuesday. Medical sources said at least three people have been killed so far.

Further south, government troops and locals have been trying to force al Qaeda and Islamist militants from the coastal city of Zinjibar after they seized the town at the weekend.

Saba news agency reported Tuesday that 21 Yemeni soldiers had been killed a day earlier in the clashes where Yemen's air force dropped bombs on the city of 20,000 near the Gulf of Aden.

Residents said bodies were strewn on the streets, the national bank building was burned and explosions rocked the city from which most people have fled.

"Explosions lit the sky. One shell fell in the street at the back of my house where militants were stationed," one resident said.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, both targets of attacks by Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are worried that chaos is emboldening the group.

Opposition leaders have accused Saleh of deliberately allowing Zinjibar, near a sea lane where about 3 million barrels of oil pass daily, to fall to al-Qaeda to try to show how chaotic Yemen would be without him.

Opposition groups made up of tribal leaders, Islamists and leftists have said they could do a far better job of curtailing the al-Qaeda threat.

At least 320 people have been killed in various fighting in Yemen since protests calling for Saleh to end his nearly 33 year rule started about four months ago, inspired by the popular uprisings that ended the reign of the long-standing rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.

Under Saleh, Yemen has moved to the brink of financial collapse, with about 40 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day and a third facing chronic hunger.

A fourth day of bloody clashes between Yemeni security forces and tribal groups left at least five tribesmen dead Tuesday, as a leading tribe commandeered more government buildings in the capital city, according to a spokesman for the leader of the powerful Hashed faction.

Three other people -- who witnesses described as anti-government demonstrators --were killed in the southern city of Taiz, a center of protests against long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh where at least 50 people have been killed by government forces since Sunday, according to the United Nations and a field hospital staff member.

At least 100 people have been arrested in Taiz, while hundreds more have been injured across the country in recent fighting, the U.N. said Tuesday in a written statement.

"Such reprehensible acts of violence and indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians by armed security officers must stop immediately," said U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay. "I urge all sides to cease the use of force, and I remind the Government of its responsibility to ensure that the fundamental human rights of its citizens are protected."

Pillay noted reports that security forces also had occupied Al-Safa hospital in Taiz, that the field clinic in Horriya Square had been burned, and that there was little or no access to emergency medical care.

Fighting also raged in the southern coastal town of Zinjibar, where an undetermined number of Yemeni soldiers were killed and dozens were injured in fighting over the past two days, the U.N. said.

"Reports of civilian casualties, including children, are particularly worrying, as is the mass displacement of the population of Zinjibar," Pillay said. "The bloodshed must stop."

Meanwhile in Taiz, at least 26 people were injured by gunfire on Tuesday, said Yasser Nomeree, a hospital staffer, and Bushra Maktari, a youth leader.

"Saleh does not want peace," said Abdulqawi al-Qaisi, a spokesman for Sadeq Al-Ahmar, chief of the Hashed tribe, which has opposed government forces in intermittent fighting for more than a month. "Saleh thrives with blood being spilt.

They attacked us and we had to defend."

The Organizing Committee of the Youth Revolution said Republican Guards shot at demonstrators in downtown Taiz. CNN cannot independently verify those accounts.

Meanwhile, fires raged in some areas of Sanaa as clashes took place across the city, according to witnesses.

Renewed fighting in Yemen's capital between a powerful tribal group known as the al-Ahmar family and President Ali Abdullah Saleh's forces has reportedly killed over one-hundred people in the past week (al-Jazeera) and raised questions about whether the country is on the brink of civil war.

The possibility looms large if the military gets involved in the conflict between the government and tribal forces, says Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen. While the United States has been a generous benefactor to Yemen over the years, the aid has fluctuated with the perceived terrorist threat, says Johnsen.

Right now, Johnsen believes, "the United States doesn't have a great deal of leverage or influence" in Yemen.

There have been tensions for years between Yemen's elite, who don't want Saleh to appoint his son or anyone else to replace him, says Johnsen, but there is no clear successor to Saleh, who has been president since 1978. Johnsen says a transitional council should be set up, which would lead to elections if Saleh leaves.

Johnsen says, "President Saleh will either be forced out, or will have to vacate the presidency. I don't see him lasting out his term, which is to 2013." But he adds that in 1978, the CIA predicted Saleh would not last six months.

It's certainly a chaotic situation, but there is a structure to what's taking place. The worrying development is that forces loyal to Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar [former general of the Yemen army, and half brother of Saleh], who had defected from the regime back in March, and forces loyal to the president were involved in clashes. This is a significant escalation.

Previously, what we'd seen in Sanaa was fighting between forces loyal to the president and forces loyal to a major tribal family--the family that leads the Hashid tribal confederation.

That family is called the al-Ahmar family, although they bear no relation to Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. If the military gets involved on both sides of the conflict, then we could have something that really drags Yemen into a civil war.

There's a lot of fighting, but it would still be a stretch to call it a civil war.

President Saleh is [probably] quite worried, which is why forces loyal to him have cracked down on protestors over the past couple of nights in the city of Taiz and have attempted to force peaceful protestors out of some of the squares that they've occupied for the past three months.

So there has been escalation, and I think there will continue to be escalation as Saleh is increasingly seeing himself as being in a corner. It's do or die time for Saleh, and he's digging in his heels.

Meanwhile, Islamist gunmen have occupied government buildings in the Yemeni coastal city of Zinjibar, amid claims that groups such as al-Qaeda are exploiting unrest caused by anti-government protests.

There are conflicting reports on the affiliation of the gunmen. Tarek al-Shami, who heads the information department at the ruling General People’s Congress, said the gunmen were al- Qaeda fighters who wrested control of the facilities in a gun battle with Yemeni troops.

“The government is planning to launch a strike against them,” he said in a telephone interview from the capital, Sana’a.

Opposition leader Ali Dahmas, speaking in an interview from the city, said the gunmen were Islamist activists operating under orders from regime loyalists “who withdrew from police stations and other facilities and allowed the gunmen to take control of the city.”

Anti-government protests have shaken Yemen since Feb. 11. The demonstrators are calling on Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. The Yemeni president has refused to sign a Western-backed power transition accord, brokered by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, that provides for his departure.

“The government wants to show the international community that al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos resulting from anti-regime protests and that if he were to step down al-Qaeda would take over,” said Dahmas.

A statement issued by the opposition Joint Meeting Parties denounced the “regime’s open handover of some cities in the province of Abyan to armed groups,” which it said the government had set up.

Al-Shami rejected the claims, saying the government has “long been engaged in battles with al-Qaeda elements” in Zinjibar and other parts of Abyan Province.

The takeover in Zinjibar came a day after three French workers were reported missing in Yemen in Seyoun city, in the southeastern province of Hadramaut.

The “chaos” of anti-regime protests in Yemen may let al- Qaeda make inroads there, Mark Toner, the U.S. State Department spokesman said on May 25. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula may gain an “ability to interfere” in Yemen because of the country’s instability, he said.