Sanaa (AFP) – Thousands of Huthi supporters rallied in Sanaa on Tuesday as the rebels cemented their grip on the Yemeni capital after killing their former ally ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Following Saleh’s death at the hands of Huthi fighters Monday, fears had mounted of an uptick in the violence that has devastated the Arab world’s poorest country over the past few years.
A night of heavy air strikes followed in Sanaa as well as skirmishes between the Huthis and Saleh’s supporters in southern districts that had been loyal to the slain strongman.
But there was no repetition of the fierce fighting that had rocked the capital for the five previous nights.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, said at least 234 people had been killed and 400 wounded in what it described as the “fiercest” clashes since the conflict began in March 2015.
New checkpoints manned by rebels sprung up across Sanaa as their leaders hailed their control of the capital, rallying supporters and pledging that backers of Saleh were safe.
Huthi supporters massed in their thousands near the capital’s international airport, shouting “Sanaa is free and the state still stands!” and “Yemenis are one!” as rebel chiefs struck a conciliatory tone, declaring they were “ensuring the safety” of members of Saleh’s General People’s Congress party.
But the GPC slammed the rebels as “militias of treason and backstabbing” in an obituary for one of their top leaders.
Tarek Saleh, a nephew of the ex-president and commander in his troops, died after sustaining a shrapnel wound during the Sanaa clashes, the GPC announced Tuesday.
Reports of widespread arrests of suspected Saleh supporters in the army and the rebel government also spread. They were confirmed by GPC vice president and Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed Bin Daghr, although not the Huthis.
– Rebels target ‘collaborators’ –
Saleh al-Sammad, head of the Huthi’s political council, said Monday he had ordered the security forces to “take steps against the saboteurs and all those who collaborated with them”.
Former strongman Saleh retained the loyalty of some of the best equipped units of the army after being forced to step down as president in 2012.
Saleh, who ruled Yemen for three decades, had joined forces with the Huthis in 2014 when they took control of large parts of the country, including Sanaa.
But that alliance unravelled over the past week as Saleh reached out to the Saudi-led coalition that has waged an air campaign against the Huthis…