After years of fighting, the capital of Yemen, Sanaa, has reportedly fallen under control of Houthi rebel fighters, according to media citing the Interior Ministry. The Iran-backed group has allegedly retaken the city after killing former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose death was just confirmed by a party official.
#BREAKING Yemen ex-president Saleh confirmed dead: party official— AFP news agency (@AFP) December 4, 2017
Al Arabiya quoted a source in Saleh’s General Peoples Congress as saying he was killed by sniper bullets. A Houthi video distributed on social media showed what appeared to be Saleh’s body, clad in grey clothes and being carried out on a red blanket. The side of his head bore a deep wound.
As reported earlier, on Monday Houthi forces blew up Saleh’s house in Sanaa and came under aerial attack by Saudi-led coalition warplanes for a second day.
Saleh, who unexpectedly renounced his alliance with the Houthis on Sunday and seemed to pull a "Hariri", siding with Saudi Arabia, was killed while trying to flee the capital, according to the Houthi-controlled ministry. It said their former ally “was creating chaos by working with militias of aggression” in the country, and “helping extremist militants.”
According to Reuters, the ministry accused its former ally and leader of betrayal and inciting even more violence in Yemen, and said the Houthi forces have “ended the crisis” and now control “all positions” of opposing militias. There have also been reports that the eldest son of the ex-president Ahmad Saleh, regarded as his likely successor, has been arrested. Heavy fighting has been ongoing in Sanaa in recent days, with the Saudi-led coalition launching strikes on Houthi positions and having bombed Sanaa’s airport. The strikes come amid reports of extreme bloodshed in Yemen’s capital after ex-president Saleh pulled out of an alliance with the Houthi rebels.
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 Saudi-led air campaign 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 recognized president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to power.
Saleh's death marks a major turning point in the war, one giving the Houthi rebels a much needed boost in the long-running proxy war. In 2015, a Sunni-Arab coalition led by Riyadh launched a military campaign against the Shiite Houthi rebels to prevent them from controlling Yemen. The Saudi-led operation has been a major contributor to the humanitarian disaster currently plaguing the war-torn nation. Some 20 million Yemenis, including 11 million children, are in need of urgent aid, according to the World Health Organization. The UN believes that the civilian death toll from the conflict could exceed 10,000.