Widening rift between Houthis, Saleh threatens alliance



Supporters of Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis gather in Sanaa on September 21st to mark the third anniversary of the Houthi takeover. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

Tens of thousands of Houthi (Ansarallah) supporters gathered in Sanaa on Thursday (November 30th) a day after deadly clashes between the Houthis and their allies sparked fears of further violence in the city.

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

The infighting threatens to unravel the fragile opposition alliance that controls Sanaa and has been battling the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Yemen's war.

But on Thursday afternoon, Sanaa's Sabaeen Square was packed as Yemenis gathered to mark the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, heeding a call from Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi for supporters to attend.

The rally came after late-night mediation attempts between Saleh and the Houthis failed to reconcile both sides, sources in Saleh's General People's Congress political party said.

Exchange of blame

Saleh and the Iran-backed Houthis have accused each other of inciting Wednesday's unrest.

"The General People's Congress and its allies hold Ansarallah 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 Houthis' "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", referring 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 Houthis goes back months, with the former president slamming the Houthis as "militias" and the opposition fighters threatening Saleh loyalists after armed violence left two dead in Sanaa in August.

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