Fighters from Yemen's Houthi rebel movement have blown up the house of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the centre of the capital Sanaa, residents reported, as Saleh's current whereabouts remained unknown, Reuters reported. The attack came a day after Saleh said he was ready for a "new page" in ties with the Saudi-led coalition.
Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Saleh's loyalists had lost ground on the sixth day of heavy urban combat with the Iran-aligned Houthis, his former allies in nearly three years of war with a Saudi-led military coalition. On Monday, the Houthis made gains against forces supporting the former president. According to witness reports in local media, there was intense fighting overnight, with explosions rocking the city into Monday morning.
The alliance between the Houthi rebels and former Saleh recently seemed to be on the verge of a split, after on Sunday, the former leader of the war-torn country formally renounced his alliance with the Houthis, pulling a "Hariri." Saleh pledged to step up his fight with the Iranian-backed group, having re-aligned his forces with Saudi Arabia. In an earlier televised speech, Saleh said that he made the decision to cease fighting in the country, having asked Riyadh to stop attacks on Yemen in exchange for his support.
"I call upon the brothers in neighboring states and the alliance to stop their aggression, lift the siege, open the airports and allow food aid and the saving of the wounded and we will turn a new page by virtue of our neighborliness," he said.
Until Sunday's unexpected reversal, Saleh and the Houthis had been fighting against the Saudi-backed forces of ousted President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi since 2015.
The address came as forces loyal to Saleh were engaged in battle with the troops of Ansar Allah, or the Houthi rebels, in the capital Sanaa.
Fighting erupted between the Iranian-allied Shiite rebels and forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh last week, unravelling their fragile alliance, formed in the face of the internationally-recognized government and Saudi-led coalition. More than 100 people, mostly Houthis, were killed in clashes between Houthis and forces loyal to ex-President Saleh on Saturday, Sky News Arabia reported, citing military and medical sources.
The recent fighting was the most serious since the Houthis and Mr Saleh's General People's Congress made common cause against the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition joined the Yemen war in 2015 to try to restore the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
Suze van Meegen, Sanaa-based protection and advocacy adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said earlier the violence left aid workers trapped inside their homes and was "completely paralysing humanitarian operations". "No one is safe in Sanaa at the moment. I can hear heavy shelling outside now and know it is too imprecise and too pervasive to guarantee that any of us are safe," she said.
Residents said the night was shattered by the sounds of gunfire and children screaming.
"It's like horror movies," said Bushra, a local woman who asked that her last name not be published for fear of retribution. "I have lived through many wars but nothing like this."
Witnesses said the bodies of slain civilians and fighters littered the streets, as no ambulances were able to reach the area.
The known toll from three hospitals reached at least 125 killed and 238 wounded in the past six days, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
Yemen's war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than two million people, caused a cholera outbreak infecting nearly one million people and led the country to experience 'the largest famine the world has seen for decades'.
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Following news of the explosion, the radio station of Yemen’s Houthi-run interior ministry said on Monday the militia’s former war ally turned adversary, ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, had been killed as fighting racked the capital Sanaa though there was no independent confirmation. Iranian media also reported that Saleh has been killed by Houthi fighters. Both Iranian state Press TV and private Tasnim News Agency reported the alleged death of the former Yemeni leader. The deposed leader was reportedly killed while on his way to the city of Maarib in Yemen, according to the agency. The Yemeni interior minister also announced the "official" death of Saleh:
Unverified footage circulated by Yemeni social media users appeared to a show corpse resembling Saleh. Armed militiamen unfurled a blanket containing the corpse and shouted, “praised God!” and “hey Ali Affash!”, another last name for Saleh.
The radio station said the official Houthi TV station would soon broadcast footage of Saleh’s dead body.
However, Saleh’s party rejected reports of his death. Saleh’s party denied to Reuters that their leader had been killed and said he was still leading forces in heavy fighting in Sanaa that has killed at least 125 people and wounded 238 in six days, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. His whereabouts were unknown and he has made no public appearances since the reports of his death surfaced.