Early Tuesday morning, a rocket attack on the camp and heavy shelling and machine-gun fire elsewhere in the capital killed more protesters. At least two protesters were killed and 10 wounded in the rocket attack, a doctor manning a field hospital at the protest camp told Reuters news agency. Reuters, citing doctors and witnesses, reported that 58 people had been killed in the protests since Sunday.
Defected soldiers and demonstrators were bombarded with shells by government forces and shot at by snipers as violence spread through the city, even as protesters remained peaceful and unarmed, said a spokesman for the 1st Armored Division, a unit led by the defected Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.
“It is a terrible situation, where we are not able to move from our house,” said Hussein al-Awami, a resident of Zubairi Street near the protest camp in central Sanaa. “I have seen dead bodies on the streets.”
A senior U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Monday that “the events of the weekend, particularly those in Sanaa, are a change in the tone and tenor and level of confrontation from what we have seen in recent months.”
The official said he had concerns that the Yemen-based terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would take advantage of the withdrawal of government forces from certain cities. He added that American diplomats and security officials were working with the Yemeni government, including the president’s eldest son and heir apparent, Ahmed Ali Saleh.
The United States has called upon the elder Saleh to fulfill his pledge to step down and to negotiate a peaceful transition of power with the political opposition. But Saleh has repeatedly reneged on promises to resign, and the country has edged closer to anarchy.
Among the protesters in Sanaa and across the country are large numbers of defected soldiers who have not yet engaged in fighting. But the sudden increase in violence could prompt them to take up arms, analysts said.
“It’s not two equal forces fighting it out to the end, but it could be,” said Robert Burrowes, emeritus professor at the University of Washington. “I think it could very easily develop into something like Libya.”
The fighting over the past three days recalls violence that came to a head this summer with heavy shelling in Sanaa before the June attack on Saleh, whose departure from the country prompted hopes among protesters that a more democratic and less corrupt leadership would be ushered in. But after three months of deepening economic hardship and political stagnation, many despair. “I find it hard to imagine things getting much worse without people just getting totally desperate, prepared to do anything and side with anyone to survive,” Burrowes said.