Thousands to gather in Yemen capital after rebel clashes

 30 Nov 2017 - 14:20

Thousands to gather in Yemen capital after rebel clashes
People gather at the site of a car bomb attack outside the Finance Ministry offices in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman.

AFP

Sanaa: Thousands of Yemenis were expected to gather in Sanaa on Thursday after deadly clashes between the Huthi rebels and their allies sparked fears of further violence in the capital.

The clashes, which erupted late Wednesday near Sanaa's Saleh mosque, killed nine Huthis and five supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, medical sources said.

The infighting threatens to unravel the fragile rebel alliance that has been battling the Saudi-backed government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in Yemen's war.

Late-night mediation attempts betwen Saleh and the rebels, who jointly control Sanaa, failed to reconcile both sides, sources in Saleh's General People's Congress political party said. 

On Thursday, thousands were expected at a rally in the capital's Sabaeen Square to mark the Prophet Muhammed's birthday. 

Rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Huthi had on Wednesday urged supporters across the country to head to Sanaa for the event.

Saleh and the Iran-backed Huthis, also known as Ansar Allah, have accused one another of inciting Wednesday's unrest. 

"The General People's Congress and its allies hold Ansar Allah 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," the party said in a statement. 

The rebels' interior ministry blamed forces loyal to Saleh 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" -- a reference 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 Huthis goes back months, with the former president slamming the Huthis as "militias" and the rebels threatening Saleh loyalists after armed violence left two dead in Sanaa in August. 

The Huthis 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 that the country 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 Huthis when he was president, but joined forces with them to take over the capital in 2014.