ADEN / DUBAI (Reuters) – A coalition led by Saudi Arabia intensified air strikes against Yemen's Houthis on Wednesday when Iran's allied armed movement tightened its grip on Sanaa a day after the son of the slain former president Ali Abdullah Saleh promised revenge for the death of his father
Former President Saleh plunged the country into turmoil last week by changing allegiances after years helping the Houthis gain control of much of the country's north, including capital. He was killed in an attack on his convoy on Monday.
Pro-Houthi television station Al Masirah said on Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and its allies had shelled Saleh's residence and other houses of his family members now controlled by the Houthis. The air strikes also affected the northern provinces, such as Taiz, Hajjah, Midi and Saada, he said.
There was no immediate news about casualties.
The intervention of Saleh's son, Ahmed Ali, a former commander of the elite Republican Guard who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates and who was once seen as his father's successor, has provided the potential anti-Houthi movement of a front man.
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, visited Ahmed Ali at his residence to offer his condolences, according to Sheikh Mohammed's Twitter account. He published a photo of himself sitting near Ahmed Ali.
Ahmed Ali was expected to leave the United Arab Emirates, a key member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, for Yemen to help in the war amid media reports that some Saleh supporters They have been changing sides.
Many residents of Sanaa stayed indoors on Wednesday out of fear of Houthi repression. On Tuesday, Saleh supporters said his nephew Tareq, another high commander, and his party leader, Aref Zouka, had been killed.
"There is a terrifying calm in the city," said Ali, a 47-year-old businessman who refused to use his full name.
"People report that there are many arrests and are trying to shoot the military and members (of the Saleh party)"
The Yemen conflict confronts the Houthis against the Saudi-led military alliance that backs a government based in the south, it has unleashed what the United Nations calls the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
The war of power between regional archrivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, armed and with information provided by the West, has killed more than 10,000 people, with more than two million displaced.
The decision of Saleh's abandonment of the Houthis was the most dramatic development in three years of stagnation. Senior Houthi officials called him high treason backed by his Saudi enemies.
Tens of thousands of Houthi supporters organized a rally in Sanaa on Tuesday to celebrate what the Houthis had said was the defeat of a major Saleh conspiracy, and shouted slogans against Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Political sources said the Houthis had arrested dozens of Saleh allies and army officers affiliated with his party in and around the city. Several had been killed in the raids.
On Wednesday, several dozen women gathered in a main square in Sana holding the portrait of Saleh and demanding that his body be turned over for burial, but Houthi security forces dispersed them by force, eyewitnesses said.
The Houthi-controlled Interior Ministry distributed a video of dozens of barefoot men who, he said, were pro-Saleh fighters held in one of the party's barracks.
Media rights group Reporters Without Borders appealed for the release of 41 journalists who, he said, have been taken as "hostages" by the group since it invaded the headquarters of al-Yemen television station al- Youm owned by Saleh on Saturday.
THREAT OF HUNGER
Nearly one million people in Yemen have been affected by an outbreak of cholera, and the famine caused by the belligerent parties blocking the food supply threatens much of the country.
The special envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, called on all parties to show restraint.
"The increase in hostilities will further threaten civilian life and aggravate their suffering," he told a briefing before the Security Council on Tuesday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday that Saleh's murder would likely worsen a already dire humanitarian situation in the country in the short term.
Talking to reporters on a military plane bound for Washington, Mattis said his death could push the conflict into UN peace negotiations or turn it into an "even more cruel war."
The commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari praised what he described as the Houthists' swift annulment of the "blow against the holy warriors," the semi-official Fars news agency reported. .
Much is likely to depend on the future loyalties of Saleh supporters who previously helped the Houthi group, which comes from the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam that ruled a thousand-year-old kingdom in northern Yemen until 1962.
by Noah Browning; Edition by Michael Georgy, Richard Balmforth and Sonya Hepinstall