SANAA - Overnight shelling has taken the death toll from fighting between rival Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim groups in a northern town in Yemen to at least 100 people, a spokesman for one of the groups said on Monday.
Sectarian fighting in the town of Damaj has cast a shadow over national reconciliation efforts in Yemen, a neighbor of oil exporter Saudi Arabia and home to one of al-Qaida's most active wings where Washington is keen to foster stability.
Clashes broke out on Wednesday when Houthi fighters, who control much of Saada province on the border with Saudi Arabia, accused Salafi rivals in Damaj of taking in thousands of foreign fighters to prepare to attack them.
The Salafis say the foreigners are religious students who travel from abroad to study Islamic theology at Dar al-Hadith academy established in the 1980s.
Surour al-Wadi'i, a Salafi spokesman, said the death toll, which according to a Reuters count had reached 58 on Sunday, had risen sharply after heavy shelling on Damaj overnight.
"There were massive Houthi attacks throughout the night against Dar al-Hadith academy and student dormitories," Wadi'i said. "The death toll has risen to at least 100."
The figure was for Sunni Muslims killed in the clashes. The Houthis have issued no figures for casualties on their side, and no officials could be reached on Monday for comment.