Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been killed by Houthi militia in Sanaa, local media and sources within his party confirmed. This development comes after days of escalated tensions between Houthis and forces loyal to him.
The details of how Saleh died still remain controversial without independent confirmation. His house in the Yemeni capital was bombed earlier in the morning, residents claim. It was not immediately clear whether the former president was inside the building at the time, and his party denied the claims that he died in the attack.
However, images and videos emerged on the social media, supposedly showing Saleh’s body. After that development, an unnamed official of his party confirmed to the Saudi Al-Arabiya network that the party leader died from a sniper shot. Reportedly, Houthi fighters opened fire on his convoy when it approached a checkpoint.
Saleh stepped down in 2011, in the popular uprising known as the Arab Spring, after a popular revolt. Yemen’s Zaidi Shia minority fought a series of rebellions between 2004 and 2010 and supported an uprising that forced Saleh to hand over power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Saleh’s supporters formed a surprise alliance with the Houthis in 2014 when they seized Sanaa amid widespread disillusionment at the political transition and Hadi’s failure to tackle corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.
Saleh and the Houthis – A new front in Yemen
On Saturday, Saleh in a televised speech blamed the “idiocy” of the Shiite Houthis for years of war in Yemen and said he was ready to turn a new page in his relationship with the Saudi-led coalition if its forces ceased attacking Yemen, the New York Times writes.
This move meant the official break with the coalition that leads to the Shiite militia controlling big parts of the country, including the capital. The Arab coalition and ousted president Hadi’s government welcomed the comments. However, the Houthis accused Saleh of staging a coup against an alliance he never believed in.
A journalist based in Amran told Al Jazeera that the Houthis launched a number of attacks on areas where Saleh loyalists are known to live. The source said that the house of Sheikh Mabkhout al-Mashriqi, a Saleh loyalist, and member of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation, was shelled and destroyed on Sunday. This tribe is important because they reportedly let Houthis through the province without resistance on their road to Sanaa.
According to reports on the ground, the Houthis seem to be on the offensive and Saleh’s forces are retreating, holding a few pockets of resistance in Sanaa. An activist in the capital Hussain Al-Bukhari said that the Houthi fighters had secured key areas south of the city, including the strategically important Al-Mesbahi residential area.
Red Cross: Civilians not part of the fight
More than 8670 people have been killed and just under 50000 were injured since the coalition intervened in the civil war in March of 2015, according to the UN data. At least 125 people have been killed and 238 were wounded since Wednesday night when internal struggles between the Houthis and Saleh erupted.
“Our call to all parties: Civilians are not part of the fight,” the statement from International Committee for the Red Cross said.
The Arab countries are involved in the fighting since 2015. The coalition mostly targeted Houthi positions with airstrikes. Their frequency is intensified in recent days, as result of the escalated infighting. Tensions escalated after Houthis fired a missile towards Riyadh. The biggest proponent of the intervention is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, whose growing influence has been evident in the recent months.