SANAA // At least 30 pro-government tribal fighters were killed and dozens were wounded by friendly fire when air strikes against militants missed their targets in the southern province of Abyan.
Security and tribal sources said that about 200 tribesmen were making progress towards Zinjibar, the provincial capital, which Al Qaeda-linked militants have controlled since May.
The sources said the tribesmen clashed with the militants on Friday, killing two of them and occupied a telecommunications building at Hassan Valley, east of Zinjibar, when the air strikes hit the building.
"Such strikes do not serve the fight on those militants. The government air strikes will cripple the progress of the tribesmen towards cleansing Zinjibar and other cities from these militants," said Mohammed Shakim, a tribal leader from Abayan.
The deaths came as the government of the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, continued to lose support from Yemen's tribal factions. Mr Saleh is in Saudi Arabia where he is recovering from injuries suffered in a bomb blast at a mosque in his palace compound in June.
In Sanaa, Sheikh Sadeq Al Ahmar, the leader of Yemen's most influential tribe, Hashid, said yesterday that Mr Saleh would never rule again.
"I swear by God that Ali Abdullah will not rule us as long as I am still alive," Sheikh Al Ahmar said during a ceremony to announce a coalition of dozens of tribes.
The coalition released a document in which they committed to join the revolution and protect protesters until Mr Saleh - and members of his family - are removed from power.
"Any attack on the supporters of the revolution is an attack on the tribes," the document says.
The coalition was announced at the headquarters of the Yemen's First Armoured Division, whose leader, Major General Ali Mohsen, defected in March to support the protest.
The coalition sent what it said was a final warning "to anybody who attacks, represses or collectively punishes the people that the response will be legitimate and by all possible and available means".
It called on all of Yemen's tribes to join the coalition.
The establishment of the coalition came as heavy clashes are going on between the elite Republican Guards forces and tribesmen in Arhab district, 30 kilometres to the north of the capital.
At least 16 tribesmen were killed in two days of clashes with the army, prompting the Arhab tribe to threaten attacks against Sanaa's international airport in response to the air strikes and shelling against their region by the Republican Guards led by Mr Saleh's son, Ahmed.
"Our patience has finished and the aggression against us has gone beyond the limit …. the remnants of the regime of Saleh have attacked us with all sorts of weapons …. The sons of the Arhab tribe will strike the Sanaa International Airport with all the available means of war in response to the attacks on them by air and the shelling of their villages and homes," the tribe said in a statement on Friday.
While it is unlikely that the tribe could take down an airliner, it could fire heavy weapons on the airport from mountains it controls nearby.
It warned airlines and passengers not to use the airport "so that nothing bad happens to them".
The tribe of Arhab has been sporadically battling the Republican Guards forces for two months, accusing them of shelling and bombing their villages and killing civilians.