SANAA (REUTERS) - At least 30 people were killed over two days of clashes between Shi'ite Muslim insurgents and Sunni Salafi tribesmen in Yemen's northwestern al-Jawf province, the provincial governor said, as chaos reigns two years after mass protests ousted the country's leader.
Shi'ite Houthi fighters are trying to strengthen their hold on the north - just one of the challenges facing an interim government also battling southern separatists, al Qaeda-linked militants and an economic crisis.
Strategically positioned next to top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and to main shipping lanes, Yemen's security situation is being closely watched by Gulf Arab states and Washington.
"The Presidential Commission intervened to stop the fighting after heavy losses on both sides amounted to 30 people dead and dozens injured," al-Jawf governor Mohammed bin Aboud, told a local television channel in Yemen.
He said an agreement has been reached to stop the clashes between the two sides under the supervision of the Commission.
The Houthis, who control much of the northern Saada province bordering Saudi Arabia and next to al-Jawf, were trying to take the town of Dammaj from Salafis allied to the al-Ahmar clan. The Houthis say the Salafis are recruiting foreign fighters to attack them, an accusation they deny.
Fighting in the north escalated in October and there have been bursts of fighting since then. Last month at least 13 people were killed when Houthi fighters clashed with security fighters in northern Yemen.
United States-allied Yemen is struggling to stabilise a country that is home to one of Al Qaeda's most active branches.