The Yemen-based al-Qaida wing on Monday declared a holy war against Shiite Houthi rebels besieging a Sunni-held town in the country's northern restive province of Saada, where recent battles left at least 14 people dead.
"We were saddened by the Shiite rebels' months-long siege on our people in Damaj in Saada," Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a leader of al- Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said in an audio statement posted on Islamic Jihadi forums on Monday.
"Therefore, we declare a Jihad to eliminate such malignant germs from the surface of the region," he said in the statement that distributed by AQAP's official media Al-Malahim Foundation.
Meanwhile, at least eight Houthi rebels and six Sunni tribesmen were killed and dozens were wounded in sectarian battles that flared on Sunday and lasted until Monday morning in the Kutaf area, some 10 km west of Damaj, a provincial security official said.
"The battles erupted after mediation to convince the Houthi rebels to allow an aid convoy by the Sunni tribesmen to reach Damaj failed," the official told Xinhua by telephone on condition of anonymity.
The Houthi Shiite rebels, a powerful group controls almost all parts of Saada province, have been laying a two-month-long siege on the small Sunni-held town of Damaj over religious-related dispute, according to local officials.
Since the protests erupted in Yemen in late January, Houthi rebels are trying to expand their control over the northern provinces of Saada, Amran and Hajja.
On Aug. 26 this year, the Yemeni government and the Shiite group signed an agreement in Doha to cement a fragile cease-fire to end the sporadic battles since 2004, but the rebels' clashes with local tribesmen and Sunni supporters are still rocking the region.