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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Senior Houthi official defects to Yemen army

Major General Gameel Al Mamari was a member of the Yemeni army units that aligned with the Iran-backed rebels in 2014

Houthi fighters ride in the back of a truck in Sanaa on December 4, 2017. Yahya Arhab / EPA
Houthi fighters ride in the back of a truck in Sanaa on December 4, 2017. Yahya Arhab / EPA

A high-ranking Houthi official has defected to the Yemeni army after fleeing to Aden from the rebel-held capital, according to local media.

Major General Gameel Al Mamari, who was a member of the army units that aligned with the Iran-backed rebels in 2014, had been a spokesman for the Houthis' air defence forces, as well as deputy director of the so-called "military forum" — a group of high-ranking army officers in Sanaa. But, he told the Khabar news agency, he decided to defect to the internationally recognised government in Aden after the Houthis killed tens of his fellow renegade army officers following the death of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in December last year.

"I decided to gamble to join the legitimate Yemeni army to fight with it against the gang that sent Yemen to hell and destroyed everything," Maj Gen Al Mamari was quoting as saying by Khabar, which is affiliated with Saleh's General People's Congress party.

Maj Gen Al Mamari and the renegade officers had been loyal to Saleh, following him when he formed an alliance with the Houthis against the government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi. This alliance broke down at the end of last year, however, with rebel fighters killing the former president after he switched sides.

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Maj Gen Al Mamari, who arrived in Aden on Monday, said the Houthis also destroyed the capabilities of the army units that had been fighting with it in the wake of Saleh's death, replacing officers in high-ranking roles with rebels.

His defection was followed on Tuesday morning with the killing of an imam in central Aden by unknown gunmen.

Witnesses told The National that two attackers riding a motorbike shot Shawqi Kamadi, the imam of Al Thewar mosque, while he was driving his car through the city's Al Muala district. They got away without being captured.

A source in the Aden police force said a detective unit had rushed to the scene to investigate.

The killing came as the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, received the UN's Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in Abu Dhabi. The two men discussed the latest developments in war-torn Yemen, including the role of the Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the Hadi government and its efforts in providing access to aid for the Yemeni people.

Sheikh Mohammed thanked Mr Ahmed, who is due to step down from his role at the end of this month, and expressed his appreciation of the UN’s efforts to find a solution to the Yemeni crisis.

The meeting was also attended by Ali bin Hammad Al Shamsi, Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council for National Security, and Mohammed Mubarak Al Mazrouei, Undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court.

On the ground, the Yemeni army scored new gains on Tuesday, advancing on the Karesh front in the north of Lahj province, Lieutenant Mohammed Al Naqeeb, spokesman of the 4th military zone, told The National.

The army, backed by the Saudi-led coalition and local resistance forces, recaptured three villages in the area, as troops continued to shell Houthi positions on the strategic mountain of Al Hashama. Lt Al Naqeeb said he expected the mountain to be seized by the army in the coming hours.

Also on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia's Al Arabiya news channel reported that the Yemeni army had foiled an attack by the Houthis close to the Saudi border.

The rebels tried to advance towards army positions in Razih district, in the northern province of Saada, but were thwarted by government forces with the support of the coalition, Al Arabiya said.