73 Saudis killed in fighting near Yemen

Associated Press / December 23, 2009

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia said yesterday that 73 Saudis have been killed and 26 have gone missing since the kingdom launched an offensive against Yemeni Shi’ite rebels along the border last month.

The announcement was the first indication that the US ally had suffered such heavy losses in the remote area, where it is difficult to independently confirm details of the fighting. The rebels, known as Hawthis, have alleged dozens of civilian deaths in Saudi air assaults.

Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the Saudi assistant defense minister, also said during a border tour that Yemeni rebels who seized the border village of al-Jabiri have 48 hours to vacate it or surrender.

Saudi forces have tried to retake al-Jabiri, a tiny outpost surrounded by Yemeni territory on three sides.

The prince said in remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency that the conflict “was almost finished,’’ but did not elaborate on that claim. He referred to the dead as “martyrs,’’ a term used to describe slain troops.

Saudi Arabia launched an air and ground offensive against the Yemeni rebels on Nov. 5, after skirmishes along the border. Both Saudi Arabia and Yemen have accused Shi’ite Iran of backing the rebels, a charge Tehran has denied.