Thousands of Sunni Islamists rallied Wednesday in the Yemeni capital protesting against the alleged siege of a religious school by Shiite rebels in the north.
The Huthi rebels attacked the Salafist Dar al-Hadith institute in the rebel stronghold of Saada, Sunni extremists said, adding that hundreds of students, including Westerners, and their families are caught inside.
A tribal source said Sunday that 20 were killed and 70 others wounded in attacks on the institute in the village of Dammaj.
According to Mohammad al-Ammari, the spokesman of the rally, at least seven thousand people, including women and children, are under siege in Dammaj.
"They are facing daily bombings by the Huthis and lack food and medicines," Ammari said.
He said at least 26 people were killed since the beginning of the blockade including at least two Americans, a French citizen, a Russian and a number of Indonesians and Malaysians.
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He accused the Shiite rebels of wanting to build a Shiite state in northern Yemen.
The head of the institute, sheikh Yehya al-Hajuri, who remains in Dammaj, urged his followers in a written statement distributed at the rally to launch "jihad (holy war) against the Huthi Rafida (rejectionists)," using a term coined by Saudi Salafists to describe Shiites.
Huthi rebels consider the Salafist institute a preaching centre.
Asked by AFP, rebels' representative in Sanaa, Khaled al-Madani, insisted that the gunmen were "stopping the supply of arms" but not laying siege to the institute.
He accused the institute of "hosting armed men who fire at our brothers", stressing that "Dar al-Hadith is at the forefront of calls for sectarian sedition."
Huthi rebels are Zaidi Shiites who complain of marginalisation by the Sanaa government. Thousands have been killed since a rebellion began in 2004. A cease-fire was reached in February last year.
The rebels are said to be close to Iran.