SANAA – Gunbattles raged Wednesday on the streets of Yemen's capital, killing 39 people, witnesses said as a truce between security forces and tribesmen collapsed, residents fled and embassies bolted their doors.
A medic at Jumhuriya hospital said 37 people, most of them combatants, were killed in overnight clashes in Sanaa, while an AFP photographer said the bodies of two other tribesmen were taken to Al-Ulum hospital during the day.
Heavy fighting ensued on Wednesday, prompting Kuwait to withdraw its diplomatic staff from the city, one day after Italy closed its embassy on concerns of escalating violence following threats against European missions.
The fighting between tribesmen loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who heads the powerful Hashid federation, and security forces loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh broke out in the city on Tuesday.
It ended a truce announced on Friday, after a week of fierce clashes that erupted when Saleh warned of a civil war as he refused to sign a Gulf-brokered plan for him to give up office as demanded by protesters.
Ahmar had in March pledged his support for protesters who have been demonstrating since January for the departure of Saleh, who has been in power since 1978.
The defence ministry's 26sep.net news website said tribesmen had on Wednesday occupied a building near the presidential palace, in the south of Sanaa.
The guns fell silent on Wednesday afternoon, but it was unclear how long the lull would last as dozens of armed tribesmen could be seen in the streets of Al-Hasaba, where Ahmar's home is located.
Residents had reported street fighting took place throughout the night in Al-Hasaba, an area in the city's north.
"We heard the sound of ambulances evacuating the wounded throughout the night," one resident of Al-Hasaba told AFP.
One veiled woman, who gave her name as Umm Ahmed, said as she fled from Al-Hasaba with her five children that she was returning to her village. The group was carrying plastic bags filled with clothes.
Most shops were closed in Sanaa, and there were long lines at petrol stations.
Witnesses said reinforcements from the Republican Guards, an elite unit loyal to the president, had been sent to Al-Hasaba.
A fourth army brigade camp located near the state television and radio headquarters was targeted by rockets, as was the interior ministry headquarters, witnesses said.
26sep.net, meanwhile, said government forces "regained control of a number of public buildings," without specifying which ones.
The website had said on Tuesday that Ahmar's tribesmen had seized both the headquarters of the ruling General People's Congress and the main offices of the water utility.
Saleh's government had accused Ahmar's fighters of breaking the truce, but sources close to Ahmar said Saleh's forces were to blame as they had opened firing on the tribal leader's compound.
In south Yemen, fighting between alleged Al-Qaeda militants and security forces continued in the city of Zinjibar on Wednesday, residents said.
At least 41 soldiers and civilians have been killed in fighting in the city since Friday, according to an AFP tally based on security officials and medics.
"Zinjibar is a ghost town," said Awad al-Matari, an engineer who had fled to Aden, adding most of the population had left, except for some men who remained to protect their homes.
And a military source said on Wednesday that one soldier had been killed in fighting with suspected Al-Qaeda fighters near the city of Loder, northeast of Zinjibar.
Taez was calm on Wednesday, an AFP photographer said, after security forces shot dead seven people demonstrating against Saleh in the city, and after 21 people were killed ending a four-month sit-in in a central square.
The shootings drew international condemnation.
"We condemn those indiscriminate attacks by the Yemeni security forces," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said, referring in particular to violence in Taez.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also voiced shock at the use of live rounds against protesters in Taez in a crackdown that the UN human rights office said had already killed more than 50 people since Sunday.