SANAA, Yemen – Snipers took roofs in residential areas, deployed tanks and militiamen set up checkpoints on Sunday throughout the Yemeni capital, where fighting forced families to flee inland in anticipation of more violence.
Five days of shelling and intense shootings have underlined the unraveling of the already fragile alliance between Yemen's strong man and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Shiite rebels known as Houthis. The two sides joined three years ago and swept the capital, Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized president of the country to flee the country and seek military intervention led by Saudi Arabia.
After months of political and military stalemate, the street battles between the Saleh forces and the Houthi militia marked a turning point in the conflict. The two sides had been enemies before the six-year war that began in 2004 when Saleh was president. Their alliance, in the eyes of many Yemenis, was doomed to failure because of their marked differences.
The Iranian-backed rebels perceive themselves as a movement of religious awakening, while Saleh is a pragmatic politician, changing political alliances, buying tribal loyalties and exploiting Yemen's power line failures during his three decades in office. power before being overthrown after the lifting of the Arab Spring in 2011.
In the last 48 hours, in a series of surprise announcements, all Yemen's political actors spoke about turning a new page and unification against the Houthis: a new alliance that seemed to have been brewing for some time when the Shiite rebels accused Saleh of working against them.
The Houthis, who descended from their northern enclave and seized the Yemeni capital in 2014 with the help of Saleh's forces, are now isolating themselves from popular anger.
Pictures of angry Yemenis tearing down posters of the Houthi leader, Abdul-Malik a-Houthi, in Sanaa flooded the social networks while the street fighting seemed to divide the capital in two, with the northern areas under Houthi control and the southern ones under the Saleh fighters.
Clashes between combatants loyal to Saleh and the Houthis erupted last week when Saleh accused the rebels of badaulting his giant mosque in Sanaa and attacking his nephew, the powerful special forces commander, Tarek Saleh.
Both sides have established checkpoints, placed snipers on rooftops and sealed entrances to the city. The bombings and sporadic shooting rocked the southern part of Sanaa on Sunday.
Many state institutions-including the airport, the central television office, and the official news agency-remain under the control of the Houthis, despite earlier reports that Saleh's forces had taken them on.
A southern Sanaa district containing the residential compound of Saleh and his family was surrounded during intense confrontations.
The fight also spread to the northern areas. In Amran, members of armed tribes tried to cut the road between the provinces of Saada, a Houthi stronghold, and Jawf, sparking clashes in which dozens of tribal members were killed and wounded, witnesses said. In Mehwat, a province in northern Yemen, sporadic clashes broke out between supporters of Saleh and the Houthis, while heavy fighting rocked the western district of Gidr in Sanaa province, where tribal members took camps. military briefly before handing them over to the Houthis.  Medical officials in Sanaa said that about 75 people from both sides died and were injured in clashes there. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to inform the media, did not provide a breakdown of casualties.
Meanwhile, the president of Yemen, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is in Saudi Arabia in self-imposed exile, seemed to extend an offer of reconciliation to his predecessor, Saleh. In a statement from Riyadh, Hadi said his side would support "any party that confronts Houthi terrorist gangs."
The offer followed a statement televised Saturday by Saleh in which he announced that he and his party, the General People's Congress, were open to dialogue and be willing to pbad a "new page" in negotiations with the coalition headed for Saudi Arabia.
Seemingly confirming his break with the Houthis and aligning with Saudi Arabia, Saleh told Kuwait's al-Rai newspaper that "the militia era is over and there is no coexistence between a state and a quasi-state after today. "
"Our natural orbit like Yemenis is the orbit of the Gulf," he added, referring to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states. "Whatever the differences with the Gulf countries, we will cooperate and agree."
If Saleh and his fighters switch sides and join the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and Hadi supporters, the Houthis would be completely isolated.
Houthis and Saleh forces deteriorated in recent weeks amid accusations by rebels that Saleh was opening a channel with the coalition through the United Arab Emirates, a member of the coalition, to turn against the Houthis .
Deif Allah al-Shami, a senior Houthi politician, told The Associated Press that Saleh, by his statements and actions on the ground, had de facto joined the coalition led by Saudi Arabia. However, he said that this spelled the end of Saleh, insisting that the Houthis remain firmly in control.
"Saleh finished, this card is over," he said. "Now it's part of the coalition and the aggression."
Saleh's relatives, including his son Ahmed, who was once prepared to succeed his father and who led the powerful Republican Guards, went into exile in the UAE. since Saleh resigned after the mbadive uprising against his government during the Arab Spring of 2011.
Saleh and the Houthis have always been unlikely allies. When Saleh was president, he repeatedly went to war with the rebels in his northern heart. In recent weeks, the Houthis accused Saleh of trying to get his forces out of the front lines, while his supporters complained that the Houthis monopolized power.
Last summer, Saleh also seemed to work against the Houthis when he welcomed United United Initiative to deliver the vital port city of Hodeida, in the Red Sea, to a neutral third party to facilitate the blockade and open the port to free access of humanitarian aid. The Houthis rejected the proposal and refused to meet with the United States envoy in Yemen.
The cracks deepened in August after the street fighting ended with the death of one of Saleh's close collaborators, Khaled al-Radhi. Since then, members of Saleh's party have vowed revenge.
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