Houthis tighten hold on Sanaa after Saleh death
SANAA - Yemen's Huthi rebels moved to cement their grip on the capital Tuesday after killing former president Ali Abdullah Saleh as he fled the city following the collapse of their uneasy alliance.
Residents reported a few minor clashes between the Huthis and Saleh supporters late on Monday in southern districts which had been loyal to the slain strongman.
But there was no repetition of the heavy fighting that had rocked Sanaa for the five previous nights.
A least 234 people were killed and 400 wounded in those clashes, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday.
New checkpoints manned by rebels sprung up across Sanaa as their leaders hailed their control of the capital.
"We declare the end of security operations and the stabilisation of the situation," senior Huthi official Saleh al-Sammad told the rebels' Almasirah television channel late on Monday.
Sammad said he had ordered the security forces to "take steps against the saboteurs and all those who collaborated with them".
The capital was awash with unconfirmed rumours of widespread arrests of suspected Saleh supporters in the army and the rebel government.
The former strongman retained the loyalty of some of the best equipped units of the army after he was 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 the capital.
But that alliance unravelled over the past week as the former leader reached out to the Saudi-led coalition that has waged an air campaign against the Huthis since March 2015.
In a sign of confidence, the Huthis called a mass rally for Tuesday afternoon to celebrate their "foiling of the plot" hatched by Saleh to change sides in Yemen's devastating civil war and pledging that backers of Saleh were safe despite his death.
Saleh was killed on Monday while trying to flee his residence in Sanaa.
The Iran-backed Huthis were the first to announce his death, which came days after their leader threatened retribution after Saleh ended their fraught three-year alliance and announced he was open to talks with the coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of Yemenis gathered near Sanaa International Airport shouting "Sanaa is free and the state still stands!" and "Yemenis are one!", as rebel chiefs addressed the crowd, many of whom waved the national flag.
Mohammed Ali al-Huthi, who heads the rebels' revolutionary council, told the crowd the Huthis had been left with no choice but to "confront" their former ally but were now "ensuring the safety" of members of his General People's Congress party.
"They are being treated in hospitals and no one is looking to eliminate them," Huthi said.
- Air strikes pound Sanaa -
The Saudi-led coalition stepped up its bombardment of the capital on Monday night, carrying out at least seven strikes on the rebel-held presidential palace, witnesses said.
There was no immediate word of any casualties.
Yemen's war has left thousands dead, led to one of the world's worst humanitarian crises and deepened tensions between Middle East rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned on Tuesday that those attacking Yemen would regret it.
"The people of Yemen will make their aggressors regret their actions," he said in a televised speech.
The commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, said Saleh was killed because he had been trying to overthrow the Huthis.
"The traitor Saudis are seeking to create insecurity in the region under orders from the United States and working alongside Israel... We witnessed their attempt to launch a coup against (the Huthis), which was strangled at birth," Jafari said.
Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit condemned Saleh's killing, saying that the "way it was done reveals to everyone the criminal nature" of the Huthis.
Saleh was forced to step down in 2012, after his forces waged a bloody crackdown on peaceful Arab Spring-inspired protests calling for his ouster.
The 75-year-old had survived civil war, rebellion in the north, an Al-Qaeda insurgency in the south and a June 2011 bomb attack on his palace that wounded him badly.
The Huthis announced his death on Almasirah, and a video provided by the rebels showed what appeared to be a dead Saleh with a severe head injury, his body wrapped in a floral-print blanket.
A military source said the Huthis had stopped their four-car convoy about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Sanaa and shot dead Saleh and two other officials.
In a televised speech on Monday, rebel chief Abdul Malik al-Huthi made no mention of Saleh's death but expressed his satisfaction at the day's events.
"Today marked the failure of the conspiracy and treason, a black day for the forces of aggression," he said.