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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Yemen: Prime minister of Houthi-Saleh administration agrees to work with rebels

It comes after an alliance between the Houthi rebels and Saleh loyalists collapsed earlier this month

A Houthi fighter inspects a rebel-held detention centre after it was hit by alleged air strike in Sanaa on December 13, 2017. Yahya Arhab / EPA
A Houthi fighter inspects a rebel-held detention centre after it was hit by alleged air strike in Sanaa on December 13, 2017. Yahya Arhab / EPA

A leading member of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh's General People's Congress party has agreed to work with the Houthi rebels after an alliance between the two sides collapsed earlier this month, a GPC-aligned journalist has told The National.

Abdulaziz bin Habtoor is the prime minister of the Houthi-Saleh administration that runs Sanaa and other parts of Yemen under rebel control.

The Iran-supported Houthis and Saleh's supporters had formed a fragile alliance against the government of president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi whose forces are backed by a Saudi-led military coalition. But tensions between the two sides came to a head at the end of last month with fierce clashes breaking out in the streets of the capital between rebel fighters and elite renegade soldiers loyal to Saleh.

After days of fighting, the Iran-backed Houthis gained the upper hand, gaining control of most of the capital and killing Saleh as he tried to flee Sanaa. The rebels have since launched a crackdown against members of the GPC, killing several leading figures.

The GPC-aligned journalist, who fled Sanaa on the day of Saleh's murder and is now based in Marib province, said the Houthis were trying to persuade GPC members to sign onto a deal that would see the rebels change the Houthi-Saleh administration. But the source said two-thirds of the GPC's leaders and members had already fled rebel areas.

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It came as the vice-president of the Houthi-Saleh administration arrived in a government-controlled area after escaping the capital himself, amid local news reports that he had defected to Mr Hadi's government.

Qasim Al Qasadi, who belongs to the GPC, is the most senior Saleh loyalist to have escaped the capital since the alliance between the Houthi rebels and Saleh supporters broke down.

An official in the government's media ministry, Osama Al Sharmi, told The National that Mr Al Qasadi had arrived at his family's home in the district of Al Zaher in Al Bayda province on Tuesday morning.

On Tuesday night, the Aden-based daily Al Ghad newspaper, said Mr Al Qasadi had declared his support for Mr Hadi's government. But Mr Al Sharmi said he could not confirm this.

Yemen has been at war since the Houthis seized the capital in September 2014, later advancing south and forcing Mr Hadi's government to relocate to the southern city of Aden. They have controlled Sanaa ever since along with Saleh and his supporters.

In August last year, the Houthis and the GPC formed a 10-man "Supreme Political Council" to run the parts of Yemen under their control, with five positions going to each side. The United Nations described the body as unconstitutional and blamed it for the collapse of peace talks with the Yemeni government that same month.

Two months later, however, the rebels and the GPC went one step further, declaring that they were forming a so-called "national salvation" government aimed at rivalling Mr Hadi's administration. Mr Al Qasadi is the vice-president of this government, while Mr bin Habtoor is its prime minister.

Mr Al Qasadi's escape from Sanaa came as the government-owned telecommunications corporation said a project to end the Houthis' monopoly over Yemen's telecommunications services would achieve its goal in three months.

The corporation was headquartered in Sanaa before the Houthis seized the city in 2014. It has since relocated to Aden but the country's central telecommunications control room remains in the rebel-held capital.

Abdulbast Al Faqih, the corporation's director, told The National that the corporation was working on the final stages of an enormous project that will see an international telecommunications cable connect to Aden via the sea.

"We need three months to wrap up the project which is going to transfer the telecommunication control room from Sanaa to Aden forever, then the Houthis will not be able to block any service," Mr Al Faqih said.

He said the rebels had caused the Yemeni people additional suffering by blocking social media and news sites, and illegally tapping phone calls.

The director added that ending the Houthis' "domination" of Yemen's telecommunications services would be a crucial victory for Mr Hadi's internationally recognised government as it looks to make economic — as well as territorial — gains over the rebels.