Yemeni forces killed 15 people and wounded dozens when they shelled the southern city of Taez with mortars and artillery, hitting a hospital and a square where anti-government demonstrators were taking part in the Muslim Friday prayers, Al Arabiya reported citing activists.
Security forces loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh started shortly after midnight to shell areas around Freedom Square, where demonstrators hold rallies against the regime, witnesses told AFP.
“A total of 15 civilians were killed, including three children and three women,” a medic source, adding that 12 women were among 40 wounded.
Residents said the shelling in Yemen’s second-largest city later intensified, focusing on the al-Rawdah and Zeid al-Mushky districts, which have been at the forefront of anti-regime protests.
Witnesses said Republican Guard troops, commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed, also fired artillery rounds into central Taez where thousands of protesters were gathered to call for the veteran president's prosecution.
It was the first time security forces have shelled Freedom Square during the weekly Muslim weekly prayers, they said, adding that the upper floors of a hospital were also targeted.
According to witnesses, anti-regime tribesmen repelled a raid by security forces on western Taez.
The escalation in violence coincided with the return of the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, to revive efforts aimed at resolving the country's 10-month political turmoil.
Benomar, who arrived in the capital on Thursday, began meeting with several government and opposition figures to discuss recent developments and the best means for resolving the current crisis.
“My visit came to reach a political reconciliation and to sign the Gulf initiative” under which President Ali Abdullah Saleh would step down in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and his family, Benomar told reporters upon his arrival.
Officials of the ruling party and delegates negotiating on behalf of the opposition told AFP on Thursday that the talks were making progress.
Saleh, in power for 33 years, has come under domestic pressure to step down in line also with a U.N. roadmap which calls on him to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who would lead a two-year transitional period.
The interim period would see the formation of a reconciliation government, the restructuring of military bodies and drafting of a constitution, according to Yassin Saeed Noman, leader of the Common Forum parliamentary opposition.
The roadmap drawn up in two weeks of talks in July held by Benomar with the opposition and leading figures of Saleh’s party, provides an implementation mechanism for the Gulf-brokered plan, which Saleh has stalled for months.