(MENAFN- Gulf Times) The rebel alliance controlling Yemen's capital appeared to crumble yesterday as a strongman opposed to the internationally recognised government reached out to a Saudi-led coalition fighting the insurgents.
The rift within rebel ranks erupted into violence in Sanaa this week, raising fears of a new front in a three-year war that has claimed thousands of lives and triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who joined forces with the Houthi rebels to seize the capital in 2014, said yesterday he was ready to talk to the Saudi-led coalition if it lifts a crippling blockade on Yemen.
His sudden about-face sparked warnings of retribution by the Houthis, whose leader accused Saleh of 'great treason.
Dozens of fighters on both sides have been killed in the clashes this week, with rebel chief Abdul Malik al-Houthi confirming at least 40 killed or injured.
Security sources in Sanaa put the toll at more than 60.
The armed groups fought for control over key positions in the city yesterday, including ministries and the international airport, according to security sources and witnesses.
Sanaa international airport is under the coalition blockade imposed last month on all Yemeni borders after a missile fired by the Houthis was intercepted near Riyadh.
Streets across Sanaa were empty last night as Yemenis stayed home, fearing a new round of clashes.
One resident described the city as a 'ghost town.
For decades bitter enemies, Saleh and rebel chief Abdulmalik al-Houthi teamed up three years ago to drive President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government from Sanaa.
But the fragile rebel alliance has shown signs of unravelling for months.
Saleh's open overture to Saudi Arabia came a day after talks aimed at ending the rebel infighting failed to broker a truce.
'I call on our brothers in neighbouring countries...to stop their aggression and lift the blockade...and we will turn the page, Saleh said in a televised speech.
'We vow to our brothers and neighbours that, after a ceasefire is in place and the blockade is lifted...we will hold dialogue directly through the legitimate authority represented by our parliament.
In a speech broadcast yesterday evening, rebel chief al-Houthi warned that Saleh and the Saudi-led coalition had become 'one front after the former president's 'great treason. The Houthis' political office also accused Saleh of staging a 'coup against 'an alliance he never believed in.
In a statement, they also warned that Saudi Arabia and its allies would 'pay a heavy price in their own capitals.
The Yemen war has claimed more than 8,750 lives since Saudi Arabia and its allies piled in to prop up Hadi's government against the rebels in 2015, triggering what the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The UN yesterday implored the coalition to fully open up Red Sea ports to allow aid deliveries, warning that 'more than 8mn people could starve without urgent food assistance coming into Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition yesterday welcomed Saleh's offer of talks.
'The decision by (Saleh's) General People's Congress to take the lead and their choice to side with their people will free Yemen of...militias, the coalition said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
A minister from the UAE, a key member of the military coalition, yesterday praised what he called the 'Sanaa uprising.
Anwar Gargash, state minister for foreign affairs, tweeted his support for 'the Yemeni people's return to their Arab environment.
Saleh ruled Yemen as president for 33 years after the 1990 unification of north and south Yemen.
A longtime ally of Saudi Arabia, he waged six separate wars against the Houthis, Zaidi Shias who hail from northern Yemen.
Saleh resigned under popular and political pressure in 2012, ceding power to his then-vice president Hadi, who now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia.
In 2014, Saleh announced he had joined forces with the Houthis, seizing the capital and setting up a parallel government as Hadi's administration fled to Aden.
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