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Yemen Houthis rally in show of force after deadly clashes

Conflict has claimed more than 8,600 lives since 2015

By AFP - Nov 30,2017 - Last updated at Nov 30,2017

Yemeni Muslims attend a gathering to mark Prophet Mohammed’s birthday on Thursday, in front of Al Saleh Mosque in the Yemeni capital Sanaa (AFP photo)

SANAA — Tens of thousands of Yemeni insurgent supporters rallied in Sanaa on Thursday, a day after deadly clashes between the Houthis and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh sparked fears of
more violence.

The clashes, which erupted late Wednesday near the Saleh Mosque in the capital, killed nine Houthi rebels and five supporters of former president Saleh, according to multiple medical sources.

One source at the Jumhuriya hospital said on Thursday the death toll had risen to as many as 18 rebels and six Saleh loyalists, although the numbers could not be confirmed by other hospitals in the area.

Fearing renewed clashes, people were opting to stay at home on Thursday night, witnesses said, as armed supporters of both sides deployed in some streets.

A source in Saleh’s forces said Houthi fighters were positioned around the residences of two of the ex-president’s nephews.

The infighting threatens to unravel the fragile alliance that controls the capital and has been battling the Saudi-backed government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Yemen’s war.

The rally came after late-night mediation attempts between Saleh and the rebels failed to reconcile the two sides, sources in Saleh’s General People’s Congress party said.

Sanaa’s Sabaeen Square was packed on Thursday afternoon as Yemenis gathered to mark the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, heeding a call from rebel leader Abdul Malik Al Houthi for supporters to attend.


Threat to Saudi Arabia 


Security forces loyal to Saleh joined forces with the Houthis in 2014, and they went on to capture swathes of territory together and fight government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition.

On Thursday, Houthi threatened to retaliate again over a blockade imposed by the coalition, after a November 4 rebel missile attack that was intercepted near Riyadh international airport.

“Should the blockade continue, we know what [targets] would cause great pain and how to reach them,” the rebel leader said in a televised speech.

Saleh and the Iran-backed Houthis, also known as Ansarullah, have accused each other of inciting Wednesday’s unrest.

“The General People’s Congress and its allies hold Ansarullah fully responsible for every drop of blood shed among the Yemenis... and warn against all acts that, rather than serve national unity, threaten our internal unity and cohesion,” said the GPC.

The rebels’ interior ministry blamed Saleh’s forces for the clashes in a statement released late Wednesday.

It said its security forces had been banned from entering the Saleh mosque by armed guards “not affiliated with the ministry”, referring to Saleh’s forces.

“We were surprised when these armed forces inside the mosque opened fire on police without warning, which forced police to fire back,” it said.

The rift between Saleh and the Houthis goes back months, with the former president slamming the Houthis as “militias” and the rebels threatening Saleh loyalists after armed violence left two dead in Sanaa in August.

The Houthis have also accused the former president of accepting funds from the Saudi-backed Hadi government.

Yemen’s conflict has claimed more than 8,600 lives since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and its military allies joined Hadi’s government in the fight against the rebels.

The United Nations has warned Yemen faces mass famine unless the Saudi-led coalition allows more food aid to enter the impoverished country.

Saleh ruled Yemen from its unification in 1990 until he resigned under pressure in 2012, ceding power to his then vice-president Hadi.

He fought six wars against the Houthis when he was president, but joined forces with them to take over the capital in 2014.

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