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In A Big Shift, Saudi-Led Coalition Provides Air Support For Yemen's Saleh


Yemeni security forces stand guard as Yemenis take part in a rally in support of Yemen's ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh (portrait), as his political party marks 35 years since its founding, in the capital Sanaa. File photo.

ADEN, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Aircraft from the Saudi-led coalition bombed Houthi positions in Sanaa overnight on Sunday, residents and local media said, aiming to shore up supporters of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh as they battle the Iran-aligned Houthi group.

Saleh announced on Saturday he was ready to turn a "new page" in ties with the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen if it stopped attacks on Yemeni citizens, in a move that could pave the way to end nearly three years of war.

The apparent shift in position came as Saleh's supporters battled Houthi fighters in Hadda, a district in southern Sanaa where members of Saleh's family, including his nephew Tareq, live.

It was the fourth day of clashes sparked by what Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) called an attempt to seize a main mosque in the city.

The fighting has killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and raised concern of further casualties among civilians.

The clashes had added a new layer to an already complex situation in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, where a proxy war between the Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed Hadi has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times.

Saleh's announcement was welcomed by the Saudi-led coalition, which has struggled to achieve any progress against the Houthi-Saleh alliance that had controlled most of northern Yemen since 2015 and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee into exile.

The Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television said coalition aircraft pounded Houthi outposts in southern Sanaa, but gave no details on casualties. Residents reported at least five air strikes shook the highlands of the area.

Inside the city, residents said that Houthi fighters seized 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 building. Saleh had on Saturday issued his message to the Saudi-led coalition in a speech broadcast from the studios.

Yemen descended into violence in late 2014 when the Houthis, a group that hails from the Zaidi branch of Shi'ite Islam, marched on Sanaa and seized control of the government.

The group, backed by government troops loyal to Saleh, resumed its march south and attacked Hadi's interim capital in Aden, forcing Hadi to flee and inviting the Saudi-led alliance to join the fighting.

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