SANAA, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- At least 11 people were killed Thursday in sectarian conflict between Shiite Houthi rebels and Sunni Islamist tribesmen in Yemen's northern restive province of Saada, local officials said.
"Eight fighters of the Shiite Houthi group and three Sunni tribesmen of Wa'ela powerful tribe were killed and more than 15 others wounded in fierce battles erupted on Thursday evening after Houthis attempted to prevent an aid caravan provided by Wa'ela tribe from reaching besieged Sunni people in Damaj town," said a provincial security official.
"The battle took place in the main highway of Kutaf area, some 10 km west of Damaj, a stronghold of the Shiite Houthi rebels," the official told Xinhua by telephone on condition of anonymity.
"The Sunni tribesmen are apparently determined to deliver the aid to Damaj's inhabitants and to break the two-month-long siege laid by Shiite Houthi group over religious-related dispute," a local councilman told Xinhua.
Meanwhile, the leader of Houthi rebels, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, issued a statement on the group's website, saying that "the so- called aid caravan en-route to Damaj was a military caravan and it attacked Houthi followers Thursday evening in Kutaf area."
"This military convoy was a part of a foreign conspiracy to ignite sectarian conflict in our region," the leader Abdulmalik said in the statement.
On the other part, the opposition-run news website Almasdar Online quoted on Thursday an official of Wa'ela tribe as saying that "the caravan is carrying food and medicines and Houthis have been blocking the way in Kutaf for two weeks, preventing the aid convoy from reaching the besieged people of Damaj."
Since protest movement erupted in Yemen in late January to call for an end to the 33-year rule of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Houthi rebels are working out to expand their control over the northern provinces of Saada, Amran and Hajja.
On Aug. 26, 2010, the Yemeni government and the Shiite group signed an agreement in Doha to cement a fragile cease-fire in north Yemen to end the sporadic battles since 2004, but the rebels ' clashes with local tribesmen and Sunni supporters are still rocking the region.