SANAA // A group of Yemeni clerics loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh yesterday issued a fatwa prohibiting protests demanding the removal of the regime, which have been going on for months.
The clerics said in a statement at the end of a three-day meeting that armed rebellion is the worst form of revolt and stressed the importance of respecting the "pledge of allegiance" between the people and the president. The statement came after Mr Saleh had urged loyal clerics to issue such a fatwa on Tuesday.
Several clerics, civil-society organisations, tribal leaders and leaders of the youth protest movement have warned of the consequences of such a fatwa and said those who issued it would be considered partners in any attacks on the people calling for the departure of Mr Saleh.
"This statement is a military statement. It is a declaration of war that Saleh wants to launch against his people under a religious cover," said Mohammed Al Hazmi, a imam and an opposition member of parliament.
Despite the fatwa, protests calling for Mr Saleh's removal and fierce fighting continued yesterday.
Two people were killed and five others wounded in Sanaa when the house of Himiar Al Ahmar, deputy speaker of parliament, was shelled by government troops.
Mr Al Ahmar is the brother of Sheikh Sadeq Al Ahmar, leader of Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation of Hashid. Sheikh Al Ahmar's tribesmen and forces led by General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar, who defected from the Yemeni military, battled government troops in Sanaa.
It was not clear how the fighting broke out, but the interior ministry issued a statement accusing the opposition forces of attacking the house of a tribal leader loyal to Mr Saleh. However, witnesses said the fighting started after tribesmen loyal to Mr Saleh provoked Sheikh Al Ahmar's supporters.
"Two shells hit close to my house and a machine-gun round hit the window of my house," said Hamud Al Wisabi, a resident in the area.
"We urge the world and human-rights organisations to help protect us against such random shelling and gunfire," Mr Al Wisabi said.
In Taiz City, which has been a hotbed of the protests calling for Mr Saleh to step down, one person was killed and three others wounded by government shelling, medics and activists said.
The government crackdown has intensified since Mr Saleh returned on Friday from Saudi Arabia where he was recovering from wounds sustained during a June suicide attack on his presidential compound. More than 150 people, mainly protesters, have been killed during the past 10 days.
Diplomatic attempts have failed to convince Mr Saleh to sign a Gulf Cooperation Council plan to try to end the violent protests. Both the ruling General People's Congress and the main opposition coalition known as Joint Meeting Parties have signed the GCC plan. It calls for Mr Saleh to hand over presidential powers to his vice president, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, within 30 days in exchange for immunity from prosecution for him and his family.
Despite the crackdown, demonstrations against the president have escalated during the past two weeks. Tens of thousands protested yesterday in Taiz, Dhal'e, Ibb, Dhamar and Hodiedah.
"Freedom for Yemen and Syria," protesters in Dhal'e chanted, demanding both the prosecution of Mr Saleh and the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, witnesses said. In Ibb city, hundreds of children demanding protection after the killing of an infant in fighting in Sanaa last week, chanted, "Hey dad, we want safety. Ali Saleh is not human."
Protest organisers have called for massive rallies today.
"There will be an escalation during the coming two days. The youths will march" to Mr Saleh's residence, said Walid Al Amari, an activist from the youth revolution committee told Agence France-Presse.
With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press