Yemen war: Cracks emerge in Houthis-Saleh alliance

In separate speeches by rebel leader Abdul Malek Al Houthi and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, the two sides appeared to accuse the other of jeapordising their partnership

A poster bearing the portrait of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and announcing the 35 year anniversary of the establishment of the former president's party, General People's Congress, is seen in the street of the capital Sanaa on August 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mohammed HUWAIS
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Cracks have emerged in the alliance between Yemen's Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh nearly three years after the rebels seized the capital, sparking a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced millions.

In separate speeches by rebel leader Abdul Malek Al Houthi and Mr Saleh, the two sides appeared to accuse the other of jeapordising a partnership that has seen the Houthis join with Saleh loyalists to battle the Yemeni government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. In July last year, the Houthis and the Saleh camp agreed to form a joint political council to run rebel-controlled parts of Yemen.

On Saturday, in his first public address since Ramadan, Al Houthi accused unnamed parties of plotting against the rebels by considering a peace agreement that would go against Yemeni interests.

“Certain individuals and groups, who try to hide under the guise of being called those who fight for peace or thinkers, are conspiring against Yemen and trying to make deals that undermine the future of Yemen," he said in the televised speech entitled "Maintaining the unity of internal ranks".

Al Houthi said he was prepared to work towards a peace agreement with Mr Hadi's government and the Saudi-led coalition backing it — which includes the UAE — but only one that would be in the interest of the country.


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Mr Saleh responded the following day by accusing the rebels of dishonouring the terms of their political agreement.

“To the great disappointment, there are supervising committees, to which we agreed on dissolving upon the partnership but, what’s happening is that the revolutionary committee controls the political council in Yemen,” he said.

Members of the so-called "Supreme Political Council" were named in August last year, with the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency saying the ten positions would be divided equally between the rebels and Saleh loyalists.

Al Houthi appeared to pre-empt Mr Saleh's accusation on Friday, saying the rebel movement "represents only a quarter of the state's top echelons and one per cent of the overall administrative structure of the state".

Mr Saleh, meanwhile, said the Supreme Political Council's ability to govern was being undermined by the Houthis' failure to send the incomes of areas under their control — mainly made up of taxes — to the Yemeni central bank in Aden. Without these funds, the Yemeni government, which controls the bank, has for nearly a year refused to pay the salaries of public sector workers in rebel-controlled areas.

“Where are the salaries?,” Mr Saleh asked. “No one should be taking the countries’ resources and we should be united.”

His comments came four days before the 35th anniversary of the formation of his General People's Congress party.

The alliance between the Houthi movement and Mr Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, has always been a marriage of convenience. The former foes fought six brutal wars in five years while Mr Saleh was president, with the latter's forces killing Hussein Al Houthi, the founder of the Houthi movement and Abdul Malek's elder brother, in 2004. But their interests aligned after Mr Saleh ceded power in 2012 following months of violent Arab Spring protests, with both opposing the government of his successor, president Hadi.

Mr Hadi was forced to flee the capital, Sanaa, after it was overrun by the Houthis in September 2014 — with Mr Saleh and his supporters suspected of facilitating the takeover. In March 2015, the Saudi coalition intervened in the conflict after the rebels attacked Aden.

Now, the apparent schism in the Houthis-Saleh partnership comes as Yemen is facing a humanitarian crisis, including a cholera outbreak that has already infected more than 500,000 people and killed more than 2,000, according to the World Health Organisation.

More than 10,000 civilians have died in the Yemeni civil war, according to UN figures, while 3 million are estimated to have been displaced.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday that UN humanitarian affairs coordinator Jaime McGoldrick had accused Houthi fighters and Saleh-allied troops of derailing relief work in the areas of Yemen still under their control.

For months, humanitarian groups have experienced delays by Houthi rebels in facilitating the entry of workers into areas under the movement's control, Mr McGoldrick reportedly said, along with interference in the delivery of assistance by the rebels, including the hijacking of aid vehicles.

* Additional reporting by Reuters