Yemen rebel alliance crumbles as ‘street war’ rocks capital

Sanaa (AFP) – Gun battles forced shops and schools to close in Yemen’s capital on Sunday as residents warned a three-year rebel alliance was collapsing into a “street war” which has left dozens dead in the city.

The Iran-backed Huthi rebels’ partnership with powerful ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh fell apart after he reached out to a Saudi-led coalition fighting the insurgents.

Referring to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the war-ravaged country, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday reiterated calls for a ceasefire in Yemen, where he is “deeply concerned about the sharp escalation of armed clashes” over the past several days, his spokesman said.

The Huthis’ political office on Saturday accused Saleh of staging a “coup” against “an alliance he never believed in”.

On Sunday, Saleh loyalists cut off a number of streets in central Sanaa and deployed heavily in anticipation of Huthi attacks, as security sources said clashes this week had killed about 60 people across the capital and at its international airport.

Saleh loyalists renewed a bid to seize control of Al-Jarraf district, a stronghold of the Huthis who fortified their positions with dozens of vehicles mounted with machine guns, witnesses said.

They said the Huthis had brought reinforcements from their northern strongholds to south Sanaa.

The Huthis seized the home of rebel interior minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Waqsi, who is close to Saleh, killing three of his bodyguards and detaining others, Saleh sources said.

And Huthi rebels killed Mohammed al-Zarka, a tribal leader close to Saleh, in Omran just north of the capital and members of his family, the same sources said.

– Bodies in streets –

Sanaa residents said they had barricaded themselves in their homes to avoid snipers and shelling as clashes flared around key ministries where the two sides had been working together just days before.

The education ministry cancelled classes Sunday, normally the start of the school week, and witnesses said some bodies from previous clashes were still in the streets.

Iyad al-Othmani, 33, said he had not left his house for three days because of the fighting.

Mohammed Abdullah, a private sector employee, said his street had been cut off by militiamen and he was staying home.

“Sanaa is becoming like a ghost town. There is a street war and people are holed up in their houses,” said an activist who works with the International Organization for Migration.

– Shifting alliances –

Three years after they joined forces to…

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