Saleh proposes ‘dialogue’ with Saudi-led coalition as alliance with Houthis unravels

December 03, 2017
Major shift. A member of forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh stands guard at Sabaeen Square in Sana’a. (AFP)

London- Following days of bloody clashes between his fol­lowers and Iran-sup­ported Houthis, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh expressed a readi­ness to “turn the page” and hold talks with the Saudi-led Arab coa­lition.

“We vow to our brothers and neighbours that, after a ceasefire is in place and the blockade is lifted… we will have a dialogue directly through the legitimate authority represented by our par­liament,” Saleh said in a televised speech December 2.

Saleh’s proposal, denounced by the Houthis as “a coup,” was wel­comed by the Saudi-led coalition.

“The decision by (Saleh’s) Gen­eral People’s Congress to take the lead and their choice to side with their people will free Yemen of… militias loyal to Iran,” the coali­tion said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

A rift that surfaced in August between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Saleh seemed to be widening recently. Fighting between the two allies in Sana’a had continued over four days. The violence began a day after fights at the Saleh Mosque in Sana’a. The Houthis said Saleh loyalists prevented them from entering the mosque.

Yemeni sources put the death toll during the fighting at 18 rebels and six Saleh loyalists.

Armed supporters of both sides were seen patrolling the streets of Sana’a, prompting residents to stay indoors as they feared an es­calation.

The two sides, who were foes for decades, forged an alliance in early 2015 directed against Yem­en’s internationally recognised government led by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of Sana’a and other cities in September 2014, prompt­ing Saudi Arabia to launch a mili­tary campaign in March 2015 to support Hadi.

Since then, however, reports in­dicated the relationship between the Houthis and Saleh loyalists was strained. Confrontations in August between the two sides re­sulted in the death of four people.

One source of tension is that armed fighters from both sides come face to face in Sana’a, where the risk of misunderstanding or being offended by the other side is high. Also, the two sides’ lead­ership, both of which are suspi­cious of the other, see themselves as more entitled to power.

The Houthis seemed to fear that Saleh was plotting to betray them by making a deal with the Saudi-led alliance. The Houthis have accused Saleh of receiving funds from Hadi. In a Twitter posting, the Houthis claimed that Saleh coordinated with Saudi Arabia in the latest clashes.

During his tenure as president, Saleh waged six wars against the Houthis, some of which, with Saudi support, included air strikes on rebel targets.

On November 30, the Houthis announced they fired a ballistic missile at Saudi Arabia, the sec­ond such attack in less than a month. The first, on November 4, prompted Saudi Arabia to restrict access to Yemen, a policy that has since been eased.

“We confirm the success of our ballistic missile trial, which hit its military target inside Saudi Ara­bia,” said the Houthi-run Al Ma­sirah television channel.

Saudi authorities, however, said they intercepted the missile “without casualties.”

A confidential UN report said evidence from debris of four bal­listic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by the Houthis appear to show that they were designed and manufactured by Iran, Reuters re­ported.

“Design characteristics and di­mensions of the components in­spected by the panel are consist­ent with those reported for the Iranian designed and manufac­tured Qiam-1 missile,” the report said.

Iran denied supplying the Houthi rebels with the missiles.