Shiite rebels attack police patrols in Yemeni capital

Shiite rebels attack police patrols in Yemeni capital

SANAA, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Shiite Houthi rebels attacked police patrols in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Saturday, wounding 17 policemen before the rebels held them hostages, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

"A group of Shiite Houthi gunmen intercepted two police pick-up vehicles which were on routine patrol in al-Jiraf neighborhood in northern Sanaa on Saturday. The gunmen opened fire at the policemen, wounding 17 of them," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

The ministry accused the Shiite Houthi rebel group of smuggling weapons into the northern neighborhoods of Sanaa and putting up barricades on road entrances.

Meanwhile, the rebel group posted a video clip on its website after the attack, saying that it has released the policemen in swap of its jailed fellows in a deal mediated by a presidential committee.

The Shiite rebels have killed dozens of soldiers in sporadic battles against government troops in northern provinces of al-Jouf and Amran, as well as northern suburbs of Sanaa.

In the past two months, the Shiite rebels took over several towns and cities in the country's northern regions, after weeks- long battles with tribesmen and government soldiers. More than 100 people were killed in the conflicts.

Humanitarian organizations said earlier this month that about 20,000 people in Amran province have been displaced due to heavy fighting between the government forces and the armed Shiite rebels.

Sectarian conflicts expanded in Yemen's northern provinces since the eruption of protests against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011.

Shiite rebels have controlled the northern Saada province since they signed a ceasefire deal with the government in August 2010 when a six-year intermittent war ended.