Saudi-led air strikes support Yemen’s Saleh as he shifts against Houthis

Former president signalled he was abandoning support for Iran-aligned Houthis

A Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes on Yemen's capital, Sanaa, local media said, lending support to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh after he signalled he was abandoning his support of the Iran-aligned Houthis – a shift that could pave the way to end three years of war.

In a speech on Saturday, Saleh appeared to indicate the end of his loyalists’ alliance with Houthi fighters. He said 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 on Sunday, 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. The attack could not be verified.

Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television said on Sunday coalition aircraft pounded Houthi outposts in southern Sanaa overnight, but gave no details on casualties.


Separately, the Houthis, who together with Saleh's loyalists, control most of northern Yemen, said 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 Saturday was welcomed by the Saudi-led coalition, which has been backed by the United States and other Western powers.

The coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates, is trying to help Yemen's internationally recognised president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi back to power, but it has struggled to advance against Houthi-Saleh forces. A split between Saleh's armed allies and the Houthis could tip the balance of power.

‘Murky’ events

Army units loyal to Saleh have been clashing with Houthi fighters in the past five days, adding a new layer to an already complex situation in Yemen.

Minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash appeared to back Saleh's side in remarks on his official Twitter page.

“The events in Sanaa are murky, but its national uprising needs support ... to protect the Arabian Peninsula from Iranian expansion,” he said.

Residents in Sanaa reported on Sunday 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 cut off the airport road, prompting the United Nations to try to evacuate at least 140 aid workers from Sanaa, according to UN and other aid officials. The UN was awaiting approval from the Saudi-led coalition, they said.

Residents earlier said 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.

– Reuters