CAIRO – Nearly three months of fighting between Saudi Arabian troops and Shiite Muslim rebels along the Yemen border has ended, the Saudi government announced Wednesday, declaring victory two days after the rebels offered a cease-fire.
Saudi ground forces and warplanes have pounded Houthi militants since the rebels killed a Saudi border guard and infiltrated a string of villages in early November. The fighting, which led to fears of igniting wider regional chaos, drew the kingdom into a sporadic 5-year-old conflict between the insurgents and the Yemen government.
There has been no official cease-fire, and it was unclear if fighting would resume in mountains where the rebels continue to battle Yemeni forces. The Houthis had attacked Saudi positions along the border after accusing the kingdom of helping Yemen try to crush a rebellion that since 2004 has killed hundreds and forced 200,000 people to flee their homes.
Rebel leader Abdul-Malik Houthi proposed a cease-fire Monday, saying his movement wished “to avoid more bloodshed and to stop aggression on civilians.”
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the Saudi deputy defense minister, said the kingdom had won a “clear victory” and that the rebels were forced back into Yemen. He added: “We cleansed the area. … Withdrawal was not an option for them.”
The cease-fire offer was posted on the rebels’ Web site and came with a warning that “if the Saudi regime maintains its aggression after this initiative, it would be showing that its intention is not to defend its territory, but to invade our borders.”
Khaled said 109 Saudi soldiers had died in fighting and that two were missing and four were being held by the Houthis. Saudi forces captured 1,500 Yemenis, including smugglers. The prince said Houthi snipers remained on the Saudi side of the border.