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Yemen president injured in rocket attack

SAN'A, Yemen -- President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded when rebellious tribesmen struck his palace with rockets Friday, targeting him for the first time in a dramatic escalation of fighting that has turned parts of the capital into a battleground and pushed Yemen toward civil war.

One of the rockets smashed into a mosque on the palace grounds where the president was praying along with his top leadership. It was a stunning hit on the regime's most senior figures: Among the nine wounded were the prime minister, Saleh's powerful top security adviser and the two heads of parliament, as well as the cleric leading prayers. Seven guards were killed.

Officials said Saleh had only slight injuries -- Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi spoke only of "scratches to his face." But there were indications the injuries may have been more severe. Saleh, in his late 60s, was taken to a Defense Ministry hospital, while officials promised repeatedly that he would soon appear in public. But by late Friday, state TV had aired only an audio message from the president, with an old still photo.

"If you are well, I am well," Saleh said. He spoke in a labored voice, his breathing at times heavy. He blamed the rocket attack on "this armed gang of outlaws," referring to the tribal fighters, and called on "all sons of the military around the country to confront" them.

The bold assault on the president is likely to heighten what has been a brutal fight between Saleh's forces and the heavily armed tribesmen loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar. The bloodshed comes as nearly four months of protests and international diplomacy have failed to oust Yemen's leader of 33 years.

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