SANA, Yemen – The days of fierce fighting here in the Yemeni capital have opened a new violent front in the country's multidirectional civil war, with an alliance of Yemeni forces fighting a fractured military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, a potentially important change in the conflict
Recent clashes have pitted a Yemeni rebel group known as Houthis against forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen who was overthrown five years ago, but continues to exercise a huge influence.
Dozens of people have been killed in the fight, which began on Wednesday. The clashes began with a clash at a mosque in Sana'a, according to officials in the capital. But like most episodes of the war, the exact cause remained murky, and it was immediately suspected that Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United Arab Emirates, had played a role in turning Saleh against the Houthis.
In the days leading up to the clashes, Saudi officials had referred obliquely to the impending events in the war that would improve their fortunes. It was not clear, however, if they were orchestrating the latest drama or reacting to rumors from the ground.
During the week, the fight roared in the southern districts of Sanaa while the mediators tried in vain to calm the crisis. By early Saturday, the battle had widened and the residents of the city were shaken by the sound of heavy artillery shelling.
"Dozens of people died in fierce fighting in Sanaa, # Yemen, hundreds more wounded," wrote the local chapter of the International Committee for the Red Cross in Twitter on Saturday . "Our call to all parties: civilians are not part of the fight."
It remained to be seen whether the latest violence would alter the course of the conflict. The Houthis and Saleh are uncomfortable allies and have fought in the past. But the harsh accusations of the leaders of the two camps on Saturday and the intense skirmishes indicated a possible irremediable rupture between the two parties.
In a televised speech on Saturday, Saleh blamed the Houthis for the violence and called on his forces to ignore the orders of Houthi leaders. "The Yemeni citizens have tried to tolerate the imprudence of the Houthi militias in the last two and a half years, but they can not," he said.
Saleh, a shrewd negotiator whose greatest achievement, it could be said, has been to ensure his own political survival – he also addressed the coalition led by Saudi Arabia, asking them to stop their "aggression" in Yemen and begin negotiations to "begin a new page. "
The Houthi rebel leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, also spoke on television on Saturday, insisting that his forces had practiced moderation and were surprised by the attacks of their former allies.
The "wise men of Yemen," he said, needed to "investigate who is behind the contest."
Forces Houthis and Saleh have long been allies in the civil war, which began in 2015 and has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people. Together, they have clung to large tracts of territory in northern and central Yemen while defending themselves from attacks by the military coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States, which controls the skies, edges and ports of Yemen. .
The stalled conflict, which has spawned a major humanitarian crisis in the poorest country in the Arab world, has alarmed aid organizations and embarrbaded Saudi Arabia, which has made Yemen a critical front in its conflict with your regional enemy, Iran. The Saudis accused Iran of directly supporting the Houthis, even by providing weapons. The Houthis have denied accusations that they serve as an Iranian proxy force.
The Saudi coalition in a statement praised the "uprising" of the members of Saleh's political party against the "evils of the Iranian terrorist and the sectarian militias." The change in tone was evident in al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned news channel, which repeated Saleh's statement on several occasions and called it the "former president", instead of the "ousted president", as had been the practice previous of the channel.
Fahim reported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
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