SANAA: Arab governments moved on Sunday to support Sanaa in its bid to crush rebels in northern Yemen, while clashes broke out in the southern city of Dhaleh over the detention of southerners viewed by the authorities as secessionists.
Dozens of people have been killed in the latest confrontations with security forces over the past six months -- in the south since April, and in the north since August when Sanaa launched a crackdown on Zaidi Shiite rebels.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Sunday that Cairo supports the Yemeni government and people in the face of the northern rebellion and rejects any foreign interference.
"We reject... any kind of rebellion and we reject any foreign interference (in Yemen). Egypt is wholly supporting -- with all its power and capabilities -- its sister Yemen," he told reporters in Sanaa.
Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz told reporters in Riyadh that Riyadh was cooperating with Sanaa in its battle against the rebels, but rejected rebel allegations that the Saudi air force was joining Sanaa's aerial bombardments against them.
The accusations are "absolutely not true," Prince Ahmad said, Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Arab League chief Amr Mussa is due in Sanaa on Tuesday to meet President Ali Abdullah Saleh and discuss efforts to restore calm.
Sanaa claimed late on Saturday that its forces had killed five rebels and arrested 16 in the latest fighting in the northern provinces of Saada and Amran.
"Security and army units have launched a surprise attack on the fighters who have fled to the farms neighbouring Saada city," the government website www.sep26.net reported, adding that security forces had confiscated weapons from a rebel hide-out.
The army launched "Operation Scorched Earth" on August 11 in an attempt finally to crush an uprising in which thousands of people have been killed since it first broke out in 2004.
In the latest upsurge of anger by southerners, who feel economically and socially marginalised, hundreds of people took to the streets of Dhaleh on Sunday to demand the release of detainees held during unrest over the past six months.
Many of the Dhaleh demonstrators held up pictures of people killed in previous protests.
"The rally was organised to protest against continued security force aggression against citizens and to protest at the fact that one person was wounded by the police (earlier)," an organiser of the protest told AFP.
The government accuses the activists of stoking separatist sentiment and seeking the secession of the impoverished south.
Overnight, violence flared after a security official spotted a seller of the mildly narcotic qat leaf on the road from Dhaleh to Aden hoisting the flags of the south and reacted by pulling them down.
The seller and four policemen were hurt in the ensuing violence, according to a witness.
The fighting in the rugged mountainous north has sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes, with the United Nations putting the total at around 55,000 displaced because of the conflict.
On Sunday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that it expects to send a convoy of relief goods within days to the displaced.
The aid for some 2,000 internal refugees, stranded in Yemen near the Saudi border, is ready and awaiting clearance and guarantees of safety from the Yemeni government, said a UNHCR official in Riyadh.