Al Houthi spiritual leader calls on followers to seize assets of pro-Saleh businessmen
Dubai: Four supporters of Yemen’s ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh were killed in clashes with their supposed allies from the Al Houthi militia in the centre of the capital Sana’a on Wednesday, his party said.
The fighting around the city’s main mosque complex underlined deepening rifts between the armed groups who have together confronted a Saudi-led alliance in three years of war.
Al Houthi militants and army units loyal to Saleh made common cause to fan out through Yemen in 2015.
But they have fought between themselves briefly once before in August and have vied for influence in the capital and Yemen’s main population centres over which they rule.
In an official statement, Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party accused Al Houthi forces of trying to occupy part of the mosque site on Wednesday for a coming political rally.
Hundreds of Al Houthi fighters, the statement said, “broke into the Saleh Mosque and fired RPGs and grenades inside the mosque and put its regular guards under siege.”
They said four of Saleh’s supporters died and six guards were wounded in the complex built by Saleh and bearing his name which straddles a major highway and is close to the presidential palace.
Al Houthis, the statement said, were “responsible for every drop of blood.”
Al Houthi officials were not immediately available to comment on the reports of gun battles, which were also reported in Arab media.
The two allies were once bitter foes, as Saleh launched several wars on Al Houthis before 2011 “Arab Spring” protests forced him to step down.
They formed a partnership to fight the Saudi-backed and internationally-recognised government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his forces.
A political body the allies established continues to rule over most of Yemen’s population centres but quarrels over appointments and policy have mounted.
Taha Mutawakil, an Al Houthi spiritual leader, in a Friday sermon blasted Saleh’s rule as “black days” for Yemen and called for Al Houthis to declare an economic state of emergency and seize the assets of Saleh-aligned businessmen.
The movement’s leader, Abdul Malik Al Houthi, appeared to direct an unprecedented salvo at pro-Saleh officials in a speech on Saturday: “He who does not understand the concept of alliance and partnership, is an obstacle and knows only how to be a rival.” For their part, Saleh’s General People’s Congress party referred to pro-Al Houthi fighters as “cartoonish mercenary things” in an earlier statement.
Saudi Arabia accuses Al Houthis, as Saleh frequently did before their alliance, of being proxies of Iran.