Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, met with Maj Gen Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the eldest son of Yemen's assassinated former president, on Wednesday to express solidarity as violence spirals in Sanaa.
Ahmed Ali is the focal point of efforts by followers of his father, Ail Abdullah Saleh, to fight back against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that are consolidating control over the capital. As he met with Sheikh Mohammed in Abu Dhabi he was named as leader of a new fighting force being raised near the Yemeni capital.
“There is talk that a military force is being prepared in Maarab," a province to the east of Sanaa, a journalist based in the Yemeni capital said. "This force will be led by Saleh’s older son, Maj Gen Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, a former commander of Yemen’s elite Republican Guard. He is expected to continue the fight against the Houthi militia.”
Ahmed Ali vowed to “confront enemies of the homeland” who were responsible for killing his father and "are trying to obliterate its identity and its gains and to humiliate Yemen and Yemenis”.
Amid a Houthi onslaught on Saleh loyalists, two high-ranking officers loyal to Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh — who was shot dead on Monday — were killed by the Iran-backed rebels, the same group that killed Saleh.
"Maj Gen Mahdi Makwalah and Maj Gen Abdullah Dhabaan were executed last night by the rebels," a prominent member of Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC) party told The National in a telephone call on Wednesday morning.
“Makwalah was executed after being surrounded in Al Sawad military camp, one of the strongholds of the Republican Guard located in the south of Sanaa. He surrendered after a fierce battle with the rebels, who executed him.”
Meanwhile, the party official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Dhabaan was killed in the Rimah Hamid military camp in the east of the Yemeni capital.
“The camp was considered the biggest military base of Saleh,” said the source. “The rebels detained and killed him after taking over the camp.”
The rebels also killed Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, Saleh's nephew and commander of the Republican Guard. Two of Saleh's youngest sons, Salah and Madyan, have been detained. The rebels say that the two were injured in battle but are being treated for their wounds.
The city of Sanaa remains in a state of war with people’s lives at a standstill.
"Sanaa looks like a ghost town. The schools, the university, the government institutions are still closed, and the city is suspiciously quiet. It is the calm before the storm," one Sanaa-based journalist told The National. "We are expecting something to erupt at any moment, because there is increasing tension in the city — tension that has never been experienced before.
The intervention by Ahmed Ali, who was once seen as a likely successor to his father, gives the anti-Houthi movement a potential figurehead after a week of fighting that saw the Houthis rout Saleh's supporters in the capital.
Houthis are fighting against a Saudi-led military alliance backing Yemen's internationally-recognised government based in the south.
Saleh had helped the Houthis win control of much of the country's north, including Sanaa, and his decision to switch allegiances and abandon the Houthis in the past week was the most dramatic change on the battlefield in years.
But the Houthis swiftly crushed the pro-Saleh uprising in the capital and killed him.
Coalition fighter jets carried out dozens of air strikes, both sides said, bombing Houthi positions inside Sanaa and in other northern provinces.
Residents told Reuters loud explosions were heard in downtown Sanaa.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen's civil war, with more than two million displaced. Nearly a million have been hit by a cholera outbreak and famine threatens much of the country.
The death of Saleh, who once compared ruling Yemen to dancing on the heads of snakes, deepens the complexity of the multi-sided war.
Women protest in Sanaa, demanding Saleh's body be handed over
Yemeni women held rare protests in Sanaa on Wednesday, demanding that the Houthi rebels hand over Saleh's body.
"There is no God but God and the martyr is a friend of God," around 20 women shouted near the Saleh mosque, the largest in the capital and named for the former president.
The rebels dispersed the protest but video footage of the women fleeing the scene was posted on social media.
A second group of women gathered in front of Sanaa military hospital, shouting: "The people want the remains of the leader," witnesses said.
It was unclear on Wednesday whether the Houthis had already buried Saleh's body.