Saudi-led air strikes back Yemen’s Saleh in Houthi clashes
ADEN – Reuters
The Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes on Yemen’s capital Sanaa overnight on Sunday, local media said, lending support to loyalists of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh after he signaled a strategy shift that could pave the way to end the war.
In a speech on Dec. 2, Saleh appeared to indicate the end of his loyalists’ alliance with Iran-backed Houthi fighters, saying he was ready to turn a “new page” in ties with the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, if it stopped attacks on Yemeni citizens and lifted a siege.
Residents yesterday, however, said a coalition air strike overnight killed 12 Yemeni civilians in one family in the northern province of Saada, the home territory of the Houthis, although this could not be verified.
The Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television said coalition aircraft pounded Houthi outposts in southern Sanaa overnight yesterday, but gave no details on casualties.
Separately, the Houthis, who control most of northern Yemen, said that they had fired a cruise missile towards a nuclear power plant under construction in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a report quickly denied by the UAE.”
Saleh’s announcement on Dec. 2 was welcomed by the Saudi-led coalition, which has been backed by the United States and other Western powers but has struggled to advance against the Houthi-Saleh alliance which is trying to help the Saudi-backed and internationally recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi back to power.
Saleh’s forces have in the past five days been involved in clashes with Houthi forces, adding a new layer to an already complex situation in Yemen.
Residents in Sanaa reported yesterday that the Houthis appeared to be clawing back some territory lost to Saleh over the previous four days and Houthi tanks were deployed amid heavy gun battles in the city’s central Political District.
The area is a stronghold of Saleh’s loyalists under the command of his nephew Tareq, an influential army general.
The fighting has prompted the United Nations to try to evacuate at least 140 aid workers from Sanaa amid fighting that has cut off the airport road, according to U.N. and other aid officials. The U.N. was awaiting approval from the Saudi-led coalition, they said.
Residents earlier said that Houthi fighters seized the television studios of Yemen Today, a news channel owned by Saleh, after clashes that damaged the building. Residents said 20 employees were trapped inside.
The Red Cross said dozens of people have been killed in clashes over the past five days and called for civilian lives to be spared.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and a proxy war between the Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed Hadi has unleashed a wave of hunger and disease in one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent times.
Yemen descended into violence in late 2014 when the Houthis, a group that hails from the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam, marched on Sanaa and seized control of the government.
The group, backed by government troops loyal to Saleh, fanned out across the country, forcing Hadi to flee to Riyadh and inviting the Saudi-led alliance to join the fighting.
Yemen’s war has killed more than 10,000 people since 2015, displaced more than two million people, caused a cholera outbreak infecting nearly one million people and led the country to the brink of famine.