Yemen's Former President Saleh Killed by Houthi Rebels, Saudi and Iranian Media Claim

Iran-backed Houthi movement blew up house of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh – former ally of Tehran – in the center of Yemen's Sanaa

A young boy sits with posters of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh during Friday prayers ahead of a rally to show support for Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen August 12, 2011
REUTERS/Jumana El Heloueh/File Photo

Fighters from Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi movement blew up the house of ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the center of the capital Sanaa on Monday, residents reported, as his whereabouts remain unknown.

Yemen's Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi hailed the death of the group's rival, ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, as a victory against a Saudi-led coalition it has fought for nearly three years.

Foes and supporters said Saleh was killed in a roadside ambush after switching sides in the civil war, abandoning his Iran-aligned Houthi allies in favour of the Saudi-led coalition.

Al-Houthi congratulated 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".

The uprising of Saleh's armed loyalists against the Iran-aligned group was the greatest threat the country had faced but was defeated in three days, al-Houthi added.

An image grab taken from AFP TV on December 2, 2017 shows Huthi rebel fighters riding on the back of a pickup truck and flying the group's flag, in the capital Sanaa
AFP PHOTO / AFPTV / STRINGER

He said his movement, which hails from a Shi'ite Muslim sect, would maintain the country's republican system and that it would not pursue a vendetta against Saleh's party.

"The problem is not with the General People's Congress as a party or with its members."

Al-Houthi hailed a missile launch announced by the group toward the United Arab Emirates this week as a message against its enemies, advising against foreign investment in the UAE and Saudi Arabia as their campaign in Yemen continues.

"The Interior Ministry announces the end of the crisis of the treason militia and the killing of its leader and a number on his criminal partisans," the Houthi-run al-Masirah TV said in a statement. However, Saleh’s party denies reports of his death.

His loyalists have lost ground on the sixth day of heavy urban combat with the Iran-aligned Houthis, his former allies in nearly three years of war with a Saudi-led military coalition.

Houthis claim missile launch at UAE nuclear reactor Haaretz/Reuters

Fighting in Yemen's capital has intensified, with the known toll from three hospitals reaching at least 125 killed and 238 wounded in the past six days, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes struck at Houthi militia positions in Yemen's capital Sanaa for a second day on Monday in support of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a former Houthi ally who has now renounced his alliance with the Iranian-backed group.

"We are supporting the main hospitals in Sanaa who urgently need war-wounded kits," ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet said. "We are also looking at donating dead body bags to hospitals which are actually asking for them, and we hope to donate fuel to the main hospitals because they depend on generators."

The ICRC have "relocated" 13 international staff to Djibouti from Sanaa on Monday, she said.

Sanaa residents reported intense fighting overnight and into the morning with families cowering in their homes as explosions rocked the city. Coalition air strikes hammered Houthi positions in an apparent bid to shore up Saleh's forces, witnesses said.

Houthi rebels have been firing rockets toward Saudi Arabia and UAE in recent weeks. The UAE refuted a claim by Houthi rebels on Sunday that they fired a missile at nuclear project outside of Abu Dabi - the Houthis later released video purportedly showing the launch.

Proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia

The re-alignment of Saleh's forces with the Saudis would mark a significant turn in a war that is part of a wider struggle between regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The bloodshed has compounded the woes of one of the Arab world's poorest countries and left at least 10,000 dead as hunger and disease have spread.

At the United Nations, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the warring parties to stop all ground and air assaults. He also called for the resumption of all commercial imports into Yemen, saying millions of children, women and men were at risk of mass hunger, disease and death.

However, in a speech late on Sunday, Saleh formally annulled his alliance with the Houthis and pledged to step up his fight.

Saleh, who dominated Yemen's heavily armed tribal society for 33 years before quitting in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, and the Shi'ite Muslim Houthis had made common cause against Hadi loyalists.

But they vied for supremacy over the territory they ran together, including Sanaa, which the Houthis seized in September 2014, and their feud burst into open combat on Wednesday.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam claimed significant gains in the battle for Sanaa on Monday.

"With the aid and approval of God, the security forces backed up by wide popular support were able last night to cleanse the areas in which the militias of treason and betrayal were deployed," he said in a statement.

The Houthi movement's TV channel al-Masirah and witnesses said Houthir fighters had seized the downtown home of Saleh's nephew Tareq, an army general.

Residents said the warring sides traded heavy automatic and artillery fire as the Houthis advanced in the central Political District, which is a redoubt of Saleh and his family.

"We lived through days of terror. Houthi tanks have been firing and the shells were falling on our neighbourhood," said Mohammed al-Madhaji, who lives in the frontline district.

"The fighting has been so violent we feel we could die at any moment. We can't get out of our homes."

Houthi media and political sources also reported that the Houthis also advanced toward Saleh's birthplace in a village outside Sanaa where he maintains a fortified palace.