Is Yemen's President Saleh Under House Arrest?

Published August 30th, 2017 - 12:00 GMT
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis hold posters and portraits of Yemen's ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration in support of the former president, as his political party marks 35 years since its founding, at Sabaeen Square in the capital Sanaa, August 24, 2017. | AFP
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis hold posters and portraits of Yemen's ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh during a demonstration in support of the former president, as his political party marks 35 years since its founding, at Sabaeen Square in the capital Sanaa, August 24, 2017. | AFP

Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has not left his Sanaa home for nearly a week, fueling speculation that his rebel allies have effectively placed him under house arrest, officials said Tuesday.

They spoke four days after differences between the two sides boiled over into clashes in the capital, which left a Saleh aide, Col. Khaled al-Rodai Hashemi, and three rebels dead. The clashes in central Sanaa were followed by the large-scale deployment of forces by the two sides, keeping tensions high.

Three days of talks on defusing the crisis have failed, according to the security and military officials, who are affiliated with both sides of the rebel alliance. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The Iran-backed rebels, known as Houthis, are allied with Saleh’s forces in a war against Yemen’s internationally recognized government and an Arab coalition. The civil war has killed over 10,000 civilians, displaced 3 million people, and pushed the country to the brink of famine. A cholera outbreak has killed 2,000 people. The rift within the rebel alliance could further complicate stalled peace efforts.

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Gunmen suspected of links to the Houthis Tuesday beat up Saleh’s lawyer and close aide, Mohammed al-Masswary, a vocal critic of the rebels who has frequently accused them of not honoring their part in the alliance. A statement by Saleh’s National Congress party condemned the “criminal” attack.

Saleh and the Houthis have always been unlikely allies. As president, Saleh had repeatedly gone to war with the Houthis in their northern heartland, but after he stepped down in the wake of Arab Spring protests in 2011 he threw his support behind them. Security forces loyal to Saleh played a key role in helping the Houthis to sweep down from the north and capture Sanaa in 2014. They later went on to seize much of the country.

The officials said Saleh has not left his home since a tension-fraught celebration by his party in the capital Thursday. They said he communicated to the Houthis his intention to attend Hashemi’s funeral Thursday, but the officials said the Houthis may not allow him to leave.

Earlier, leaders of the Houthi group and Saleh loyalists said they had agreed to ease tensions between them. Aref al-Zouka, head of Saleh’s General People’s Congress, and the Houthi Ansarullah group’s official spokesman Mohammad Abdel-Salam led delegations at a meeting in the Yemeni capital Sanaa late Monday.The meeting decided to “remove all causes of the tensions that occurred in the capital Sanaa and to return the security situation to what it was before the activities last week,” the two sides said in a statement.

Tensions boiled over Saturday night when Houthi fighters set up a checkpoint near the home of Saleh’s son and his media office. Both sides agreed at the meeting to close ranks and to “unify efforts to confront the aggression,” the statement said, referring to the coalition’s military campaign.


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