Fiercest clashes in Sanaa, ex-president Saleh killed

Reuters | Published: 17:30, Dec 04,2017 | Updated: 20:03, Dec 04,2017


Houthi fighters ride on the back of a truck as clashes with forces loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh continue in Sanaa, Yemen, December 4, 2017. — Reuters photo

Officials in Ali Abdullah Saleh's General People's Congress party confirmed to Reuters that the former Yemeni president and party leader has been killed outside Sanaa, in what sources in the Houthi group said was an rocket-propelled grenade and gun attack.

The GPC officials said Saleh was killed south of the capital Sanaa along with the assistant secretary-general of the party, Yasser al-Awadi.

Sources in the Houthi group said fighters stopped his armoured vehicle with a rocket-propelled grenade and then shot him dead.

Iran-allied Houthi forces also blew up the house of ex-Yemeni president Saleh in Sanaa on Monday as fighting between the erstwhile allies intensified in the capital with at least 125 killed, residents and medics said.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes bombed Houthi positions in for a second day in support of Saleh, a former Houthi ally who has now renounced his alliance with the heavily armed militia in the multi-sided war shattering the Arabian Peninsula country.

The Saudi-led air campaign, backed by US and other Western arms and intelligence, has killed hundreds of civilians but has failed to secure the coalition any major gains in the nearly three-year-old campaign to restore Yemen's internationally recognised president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to power.

Sanaa residents said Houthi fighters blew up Saleh's house in the centre of the city. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Saleh's loyalists have lost ground on the sixth day of heavy urban combat with the Houthis, with three hospitals reporting a toll of at least 125 killed and 238 wounded over six days, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

‘We are supporting the main hospitals in Sanaa who urgently need war-wounded kits,’ ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said in Geneva. ‘We are also looking at donating dead body bags to hospitals which are actually asking for them and hope to donate fuel to the main hospitals because they depend on generators.’

The ICRC have ‘relocated’ 13 international staff to Djibouti from Sanaa on Monday, she said.

Sanaa residents reported intense fighting overnight and into the morning with families cowering in their homes as explosions rocked the city. Coalition air strikes hammered Houthi positions in an apparent bid to shore up Saleh's forces, witnesses said.

The re-alignment of Saleh's forces with the Saudis would mark a significant turn in a war that is part of a wider struggle between regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The bloodshed has compounded the woes of one of the Arab world's poorest countries and left at least 10,000 dead as hunger and disease have spread.

At the United Nations, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres urged the warring parties to stop all ground and air assaults. He also called for the resumption of all commercial imports into Yemen, saying millions of children, women and men were at risk of mass hunger, disease and death.

However, in a speech late on Sunday, Saleh formally annulled his alliance with the Houthis and pledged to step up his fight.

Saleh, who dominated Yemen's heavily armed tribal society for 33 years before quitting in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, and the Shi'ite Muslim Houthis had made common cause against Hadi loyalists.

But they vied for supremacy over the territory they ran together, including Sanaa, which the Houthis seized in September 2014, and their feud burst into open combat on Wednesday.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam claimed significant gains in the battle for Sanaa on Monday.

‘With the aid and approval of God, the security forces backed up by wide popular support were able last night to cleanse the areas in which the militias of treason and betrayal were deployed,’ he said in a statement.

The Houthi movement's TV channel al-Masirah and witnesses said Houthir fighters had seized the downtown home of Saleh's nephew Tareq, an army general.

Residents said the warring sides traded heavy automatic and artillery fire as the Houthis advanced in the central Political District, which is a redoubt of Saleh and his family.

‘We lived through days of terror. Houthi tanks have been firing and the shells were falling on our neighbourhood,’ said Mohammed al-Madhaji, who lives in the frontline district.

‘The fighting has been so violent we feel we could die at any moment. We can't get out of our homes.’

Houthi media and political sources also reported that the Houthis also advanced toward Saleh's birthplace in a village outside Sanaa where he maintains a fortified palace.

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