Saudi Arabian warplanes bombed the presidential palace in Yemen’s capital, stepping up attacks on Houthi rebels after they killed the country’s former president just when he appeared set to switch sides and offer the Saudis a way out of the conflict.
The palace in Sana’a, currently used by the Houthi leadership,
was pounded by at least seven airstrikes late on Monday, local
It’s the first time the building has been targeted in almost three years of war. Earlier, the rebels said they had killed ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose alliance with the Houthis had helped them control large parts of the country, including the capital, since 2014.
The pact broke down in recent days, triggering clashes between the one-time partners.
Saleh governed Yemen for three decades before he was ousted during the Arab Spring in 2012 amid mass protests against his rule. He subsequently joined forces with the Houthis to fight against the new government. His killing may alter the course of the war in Yemen,
often seen as part of a broader
regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which backs
The Saudis had been working towards a deal with Saleh that represented “their best chance to take the Houthis out of commission,” said Peter Salisbury, a senior research fellow at Chatham House in London. His killing means that “the gloves are off” for the Saudi-led coalition, Salisbury said. “They
will do everything possible now to destroy the Houthis.”
For the past two years, Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour has been divided into two camps, with the government of the Saudi-backed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, based in Aden and the Houthis in control of the capital, Sana’a, and most of the north. A Saudi-led bombing campaign to restore Hadi’s authority over the whole country has devastated swaths of Yemen.
The war has left at least 14,000 killed or wounded, 1 million suffering from cholera, and 3 million internally displaced. German
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called Yemen the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis.”
In a televised speech, Hadi pledged to deploy his armed forces in any uprising against the Houthis in Sana’a, and appealed for the backing of Saleh’s supporters.
Until recently, Saleh had partnered with the Houthis, though the alliance was always tenuous because the former president had battled the rebels during his time in power. Many saw it as a marriage of convenience motivated by his wish to regain the presidency.
Some analysts said Saleh’s death, and the collapse of his alliance with the Houthis, would weaken the rebels by reducing manpower and their ability to hold territory.
“The real question is how the Houthis intend to move forward,” said Miriam Eps, regional security analyst at risk-management consultancy Le Beck International. “Continued conflict is certainly
an option, and they could turn to Iran for increased support, but they may also realize that the dissolution of their alliance means they have to negotiate.”