Conflicting reports on clashes in al-Sarari

Hostilities escalated earlier this week in the village of al-Sarari in Ta’iz governorate, with reports of violent clashes that led to a recapture of the area by pro-government forces from the Houthis. Ahmed al-Msawa, Houthi envoy to a ceasefire committee, called on the UN to intervene in al-Sarari to stop what he called a “massacre" and the arbitrary arrest of dozens of locals. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick released a statement on Wednesday regarding the increasing violence in Ta’iz and especially in al-Sarari, reminding warring parties “of their obligation under international humanitarian law to allow sustained and unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need of assistance.”

There are, however, starkly different narratives of the violence that took place in al-Sarari and the resulting casualties. Typically pro-government outlets including Yemen’s Mareb Press and Egypt’s Youm7 reported intense clashes, especially on Tuesday morning. Their reports claim that at least 10 Houthis were killed and dozens more captured. Mareb Press cited the death of two pro-government fighters and 11 others wounded, along with the death of one civilian and the injury of seven others. All civilian casualties were attributed to Houthi fire.

Asharq Al-Awsat reported that 30 Houthi fighters were arrested and that a military barracks repurposed as a weapons depot and a training base for “insurgents” was found after the city was retaken by pro-government forces.

Youm7 mentions the recapture of the Mosque of Sheikh Jamal ad-Deen in al-Sarari, explaining that the Zaydi version of the call to prayer had been replaced with the Sunni equivalent.

Pro-Houthi sites such as Al-Masirah, Saba News, and Iran’s Al-Alam feature a notably different account of events, where dozens of civilians were killed by pro-government forces and many more captured, including women and children. Some sites report that approximately 50 homes in al-Sarari were looted and burned by Saudi mercenaries and "takfiris." These outlets also mention the Mosque of Sheikh Jamal ad-Deen, but claim that government forces destroyed it and desecrated the sheikh’s grave. Turkey’s Tasnim News reported that members of Islah kidnapped dozens of civilians and set up gallows around the village in order to threaten them with execution. Many of these sources also condemn their opponent’s supposed IS-style tactics.

Most of the claims of a massacre or mass civilian arrests taking place in al-Sarari appear to be unsubstantiated. In the course of days of fighting, it is possible that there were civilian casualties, although residents of a neighboring town told Reuters that most locals had already fled to other villages and that no women or children had been kidnapped.

Regardless of the truth of each account, it is clear that both sides' narratives of al-Sarari have taken hold in their respective outlets and are likely to solidify public opinion of both parties.