x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Saleh forces shell tribal chief's home as opposition warns of civil war

Nine killed and dozens wounded in clashes in Yemen capital after the collapse on Sunday of a transition deal mediated by Gulf leaders that President Saleh was to have signed.

Tribesmen carry an injured fellow tribesman during clashes with police near the house of the tribal leader Shiekh Sadiq al Ahmar in Sanaa yesterday. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
Tribesmen carry an injured fellow tribesman during clashes with police near the house of the tribal leader Shiekh Sadiq al Ahmar in Sanaa yesterday. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

SANA'A // A missile struck the home of a Yemeni tribal chief yesterday as clansmen and supporters of president Ali Abdullah Saleh failed to negotiate a ceasefire and fought throughout the day.

At least nine people were killed and 30 wounded yesterday, an official told the defence ministry website, without giving details. It was the second day of fighting between tribesmen and Mr Saleh's fighters. Saleh forces shelled the compound of tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al Ahmar.

In a statement late yesterday, the seven-member committee formed to negotiate a ceasefire said they were asked by Mr Saleh to move and stop the fighting. The committee, which includes government officials, said that when they arrived at al Ahmar's home yesterday, the house was being shelled.

"We found the president was not serious and we all decided to stop the mediation efforts and we have held the president responsible because he is able to stop the sedition," the statement said.

Dozens were wounded at the mansion, said Zafir Nagi, an opposition member and tribesman who was there at the time.

"We fired back at the ministry of interior ministry with RPG," he said. Mr Nagi said tribal fighters controlled several government buildings including a police camp close to the interior ministry. Many families living in neighbourhoods near the battle fled their homes, resident Haif Ganim said.

The clashes followed the collapse on Sunday of a transition deal mediated by Gulf leaders that Mr Saleh was to have signed, which would have given him immunity from prosecution. Saleh refused to sign it.

"The attack on (the sheikh's) house is a symptom of the hysteria experienced by President Saleh and his entourage and their insistence on engulfing the country in a civil war," the opposition coalition said in a statement.

Sheikh al Ahmar heads the Hashid tribal confederation, the largest in Yemen and is a former supporter of Mr Saleh. However, he has thrown his support to the opposition and accused Mr Saleh of trying to provoke a civil war.

Machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades were used as fierce fighting gripped the al Hasaba neighbourhood in Sana'a where the sheikh's house and the ministry are located. The source said the shelling also targeted tribesmen stationed at government buildings including the trade and industry ministry which they controlled on Monday.

Tribal and government mediators seeking to reach a ceasefire were trapped at the sheikh's house yesterday along with dozens of tribal chieftains, said Saleh Sarhan, a tribal chief who was at the house.

"The house was attacked with mortars and missiles late in the afternoon," Sheikh Sarhan said. He said several tribal chiefs were wounded including Ghalib al Kamish, chief of political security for the Saleh regime. Mr Al Kamish and Ismail Abu Horiah, a tribal chief from Mr Saleh's tribe, are the chiefs of a committee that is trying to negotiate a ceasefire.

Fighting in the same area of the capital on Monday killed seven people, among them a bystander, a police officer and five tribal gunmen.

The interior ministry said in a statement yesterday that Sheikh Ahmar's supporters fired grenades at the ministries of interior and tourism, as well as the state news agency Saba. It held the al Ahmar responsible for the bloodshed. A security source at the ministry said at least one policeman was killed and four others wounded. As the fight escalated, dozens of tribal chiefs, mainly from the most powerful tribes of Hashid and Bakil, gathered at the sheikh's home with their armed men.

"We strongly condemn the attack on the house of al Ahmar and we consider this an attack on all tribes. However, we stress the importance of the peacefulness of the revolution against Ali Abdullah Saleh. He is trying to embroil the country into a civil war," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Naji al Qawsi, one of the chiefs of al Hadaa tribe.

Sheikh al Ahmar said in a statement that five of his supporters were killed on Monday and 52 others were wounded. Saba news agency said one policeman was killed and five others wounded.

The al Ahmar sons are a serious threat to Mr Saleh.

Sadek alAhmar, one of 10 sons of the late Abdullah al Ahmar - a key Saleh ally - now opposes Mr Saleh and is capable of rallying more than 10,000 armed supporters, said Faris al Saqqaf, director of Sana'a-based Future Studies Centre.

The al Ahmar men have been leading Hashid for decades.

Hamid al Ahmar, a leader in the opposition as well as an influential businessman, is the first opposition and tribal leader who called for an uprising against Mr Saleh some years ago and is considered to be a potential successor to Mr Saleh. His brother Hussein, who was a leader in the ruling party, has been one of the early defectors and mobilised Hashid tribes against Mr Saleh. Several of their influential brothers have abandoned Mr Saleh, too.



* With additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse