Five top members of the government were sent to Saudi Arabia for treatment of wounds they suffered in a rebel rocket attack on the presidential palace, the official government news agency reported today. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was slightly injured.
Tribal and medical officials said, meanwhile, that 10 tribesmen were killed and 35 injured in overnight fighting in the Hassaba neighborhood, headquarters of opposition Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar. A tribal leader said street fighting lasted until dawn. Many of the compound's buildings and surrounding houses have already been heavily damaged by days of bombardment.
Government and rebel forces exchanged rocket fire, damaging a contested police station. The rockets rained down on streets housing government buildings that had been taken over by tribesmen.
Since violence erupted in the city on May 23, residents have been hiding in basements as the two sides fight for control of government ministries and hammer one another in artillery duels and gunbattles, rattling neighborhoods and sending palls of smoke over the city.
Seven guards were killed in the rebel strike on the mosque in the presidential palace compound where Saleh and the other officials were at prayer. The news agency said the prime minister, a deputy prime minister, the president's top security adviser, and the two heads of parliament were sent to Saudi Arabia by air in the early hours Saturday. The security officer reportedly was in serious condition.
As for Saleh's injuries, Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi spoke of only "scratches to his face." But there were indications the injuries may have been more severe. Saleh, in his late 60s, was taken to a Defense Ministry hospital, while officials promised repeatedly that he would soon appear in public. But by late Saturday morning, state television had aired only an audio message from the president, with an old still photo.
"If you are well, I am well," Saleh said in the brief message, addressing Yemenis. He spoke in a labored voice, his breathing at times heavy. He blamed the rocket attack on "this armed gang of outlaws," referring to the tribal fighters, and called on "all sons of the military around the country to confront" them.
The bold assault directly on the president is likely to heighten what has been an increasingly brutal fight between Saleh's forces and the heavily armed tribesmen loyal to al-Ahmar.
The bloodshed comes as nearly four months of protests and international diplomacy have failed to oust Yemen's leader of 33 years.
The White House called on all sides to stop the fighting, which has killed more than 160 people.
"Violence cannot resolve the issues that confront Yemen, and today's events cannot be a justification for a new round of fighting," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
Germany said today it had ordered the immediate closure of its embassy in Yemen "because of current developments."
"The embassy team that is still on the ground will leave the country as soon as it is possible and safe," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Troops fired on protesters yesterday in the city of Taiz, south of the capital, wounding two. A Defence Ministry statement said four soldiers were killed and 26 others injured in clashes there with gunmen it said were from the opposition and Islamist groups.