Army units of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh clashed in the capital city of Sana'a for the first time with forces still loyal to former General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who defected weeks ago to the side of the protesters.
"We pray that there will be no more clashes with our fellow countrymen. However, if attacked again, we are committed to defending ourselves," rebel Col. Abdul Salaam al-Aliyani said Wednesday, after the factions exchanged RPG and AK-47 fire for an hour.
"The 1st armored brigade is postured to take both the airport and Yemen TV. Ali Mohsen sees these two strategic points as valuable bargaining chips," Yemeni political analyst Yemeni Iryani told the Washington Post. "The two military factions do not want to fight each other, but at this point there is no way to prevent further clashes between them."
Rebel security forces were manning a checkpoint outside of Sana'a, when members of two government security forces seized control. Al-Ahmar had announced last month that his more than 10,000 soldiers would be joining and protecting the protesters, who are pushing for an ouster of the long-reigning president.
The clash has the potential to ignite more conflict and even civil war, with the headquarters of forces loyal to the president and the ex-general on the same road in the capital. Al-Ahmar's forces have also set up a series of checkpoints along the central street leading to the capital's airport and offices of state media.
More than 100 have been killed in protests since protests began on February 11th. The fractured Sunni nation is also facing a Shiite insurgency in the north and pressure from separatists in the south, along with stress on government institutions from the large Somali refugee population. The United States is also pushing for the president to reign in the local branch of al-Qaida, which has been taking advantage of the nation's chaos.