A Saudi-led coalition stepped up air strikes on Yemen’s Houthis yesterday as the armed movement tightened its grip on Sanaa a day after the son of slain former president Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed revenge for his father’s death.
Former president Saleh plunged the country deeper into turmoil last week by switching allegiances after years helping the Houthis win control of much of the country’s north including the capital.
He was killed in an attack on his convoy on Monday.
The pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station said yesterday Saudi Arabia and its allies had bombed Saleh’s residence and other houses of his family members now controlled by the Houthis. Air strikes also hit northern provinces including Taiz, Hajjah, Midi and Saada, it said.
There was no immediate word on casualties.
The intervention by Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali, a former commander of the elite Republican Guard who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates and was once seen as a successor to his father, has provided the anti-Houthi movement with a potential figurehead.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the de facto leader of the UAE, visited Ahmed Ali at his residence to offer his condolences, according to Sheikh Mohamed’s Twitter account. He posted a picture of himself sitting near Ahmed Ali.
Ahmed Ali had been widely expected to leave the UAE, a key member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, for Yemen to help in the war amid media reports that some Saleh loyalists have been switching sides. Many Sanaa residents were staying indoors yesterday out of fear of a Houthi crackdown.
On Tuesday, Saleh supporters said his nephew Tareq, another top commander, and the head of his party, Aref Zouka, had both been killed.
“There’s a scary calm in the city,” said Ali, a 47-year-old businessman who declined to use his full name.
“People are reporting that there are many arrests and they are trying to shoot military men and (Saleh party) members.”
Yemen’s conflict, pitting the Houthis against the Saudi-led military alliance which backs a government based in the south, has unleashed what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The proxy war has killed more than 10,000 people, with more than two mn displaced.
Saleh’s decision to abandon the Houthis was the most dramatic development in three years of stalemate.
Top Houthi officials called it high treason backed by their Saudi enemies. Tens of thousands of Houthi supporters staged a rally in Sanaa on Tuesday to celebrate what the Houthis had said was the defeat of a major conspiracy by Saleh, chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia and its allies. Political sources said the Houthis had arrested dozens of Saleh’s allies and army officers affiliated with his party in and around the city.
Several had been killed in the raids.
Yesterday, several dozen women gathered in a main Sanaa square holding Saleh’s portrait and demanding his body be handed over for burial, but they were forcibly dispersed by Houthi security forces, eyewitnesses said.
The Houthi-controlled interior ministry distributed a video of dozens of seated barefoot men it said were pro-Saleh fighters detained in one of its party headquarters.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders appealed for the release of 41 journalists it said have been held “hostage” by the group since it overran the headquarters of the Saleh-owned Al-Yemen Al-Youm TV station on Saturday.
Nearly a million people in Yemen have been hit by a cholera outbreak, and famine caused by warring parties blocking food supplies threatens much of the country. The UN secretary-general’s special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, called on all parties to show restraint. “Increased hostilities will further threaten civilian lives and exacerbate their suffering,” he said in a briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday that the killing of Saleh would likely worsen an already dire humanitarian situation in the country in the short term.
People load belongings on a van as they evacuate their house located on a street where Houthis have recently clashed with forces loyal to slain Yemeni former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, yesterday.
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