By Noah Browning and Sami Aboudi
SANAA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Veteran former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in a roadside attack on Monday after switching sides in Yemen’s civil war, abandoning his Iran-aligned Houthi allies in favour of a Saudi-led coalition, foes and supporters said.
Analysts said Saleh’s death would be a huge moral boost for the Houthis and serious blow to the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the conflict to try to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Any hope within the coalition that Saleh could have been bought off to help turn the tables against the Houthis after protracted stalemate, in which a Saudi-led blockade and internal fighting has exposed millions to hunger and epidemic, has been dashed.
The coalition will either have to continue waging a grinding war, possibly trying big offensives against Houthi-held areas at the risk of high civilian casualties, or offer compromises to bring the Houthis to the negotiating table.
Sources in the Houthi militia said its fighters had stopped Saleh’s armoured vehicle with an RPG rocket south of the embattled capital Sanaa and then shot him dead. Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, in a statement on its website, mourned its leader.
Footage circulated on social media of his bloodied body lolling in a red blanket and being loaded into a pickup truck, just days after he tore up his alliance with the Houthis following nearly three years in which they had jointly battled the Saudi-led coalition.
In a televised speech on Monday, Houthi leader Abdul-Malek al-Houthi hailed Saleh’s death as a victory against the Saudi-led bloc, congratulating Yemenis “on this historic, exceptional and great day in which the conspiracy of betrayal and treason failed, this black day for the forces of the aggression”.
He said the Houthis, who follow the Zaidi branch of Shi’ite Islam, would maintain Yemen’s republican system and not pursue a vendetta against Saleh’s party.
Supporters of the Houthis drove through Sanaa’s streets blasting celebratory war songs.
Abdul-Malek also hailed a missile launch announced by the group toward the United Arab Emirates this week as a message to its enemies, advising against foreign investment in the UAE and Saudi Arabia as their campaign in Yemen continues.
The Houthi group’s spokesman, Mohammed Abdul-Salem, in remarks to Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV, accused the UAE of helping Saleh switch sides, and said the…