Yemen fighting will lead to 'more tragedy'

Yemen's Huthi rebels moved to cement their grip on the capital Tuesday after killing former president Ali Abdullah Saleh as he fled the city following the collapse of their uneasy alliance.

But there was no repetition of the heavy fighting that had rocked Sanaa for the five previous nights.

Houthi supporters massed in their thousands near the capital's global airport, shouting "Sanaa is free and the state still stands!" and "Yemenis are one!".

Tarek Saleh, the ex-president's nephew, was "martyred during the confrontation with the militias of treason and backstabbing, the Huthis", read an obituary sent to AFP by the General People's Congress party. The coalition has been striking Houthi positions, hoping that Saleh's loyalists might allow forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to return to the capital.

The end of the alliance between the Houthis and Saleh might have tilted the three-year civil war in favour of Yemen's internationally recognized government and the Saudi-led coalition.

But that alliance unravelled over the past week as the former leader reached out to the Saudi-led coalition that has waged an air campaign against the Huthis since March 2015.

There was no immediate word of any casualties.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit meanwhile denounced Saleh's "assassination" at the hands of "criminal militias", and warned of a further escalation of the war and Yemen's humanitarian crisis.

It also shatters hopes by Yemen's Saudi-backed government that Saleh's recent split with the Iranian-backed rebels, known as Houthis, would have weakened them and given the government and the Saudi coalition backing a chance for a turning point in the stalemated war that has brought humanitarian disaster.

"The people of Yemen will make their aggressors regret their actions", he said in a televised speech.

Iranian media that have quoted Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of IRGC, have not given more details about his remarks on Yemen.

Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari on Tuesday as saying that Saudi Arabia, "on behalf of the US and the Zionist regime (Israel), has a very important role in creating insecurity" in the Middle East. "We witnessed their attempt to launch a coup against (the Huthis), which was strangled at birth", Jafari said.

Sweden's deputy United Nations ambassador Carl Skau and Britain's deputy United Nations ambassador Jonathan Allen echoed the call for an end to fighting and the opening of the port of Hodeida and Sanaa airport to deliver aid to Yemenis in desperate need.

Saleh ruled Yemen for more than three decades until an Arab Spring uprising forced him to step down in 2012.

A video circulating online on Monday showed Saleh's body with a gaping head wound dumped in a pickup truck by rebels - a grisly end recalling that of longtime strongman Saleh's contemporary, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, in 2011.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that at least 125 people had been killed and some 240 wounded in Sanaa since the fighting began last week. The body of Saleh is said to still be in Houthi possession, leaving the question of whether there will be a funeral for one of the region's most powerful politicians hanging.

  • Jon Douglas