Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they have killed their former ally, instigator of the civil war Ali Abdullah Saleh – a death likely to further complicate the already bloody conflict.
Official Houthi media official Abdel-Rahman al Ahnomi confirmed on Monday that a video widely circulating on social media shows Mr Saleh’s corpse.
In it, the body of the powerful former president, who ruled Yemen until 2012, is being carried in a blanket. His eyes are open and glassy and he has a serious head wound.
The video was also verified by sources in Mr Saleh’s General People’s Congress party and the opposition internationally recognised government, which rules in exile from Riyadh
The 75-year-old was reportedly killed in an RPG and gun attack on his armoured vehicle while fleeing the rebel-held capital of Sanaa for the border with Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis and forces loyal to Mr Saleh until last week were allied against Yemen’s exiled president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in a two-year-old war which has brought the country to its knees.
Clashes in Sanaa in the last few days have killed at least 125 people as long standing grievances between the allied rebel forces came to a head over control of the city’s main mosque.
The death of Mr Saleh opens a new chapter in the bloody conflict.
“The Yemen of today is not the Yemen of yesterday,” Adam Baron, a Yemen analyst and fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations, told The Independent.
“What is clear is that the game has changed. The one thing that appears to be certain is more conflict and more suffering for the Yemeni people.”
More than 10,000 people have died since Yemen descended into full-scale civil war in March 2015, many because of bombings by the Saudi-led Arab coalition operating in the country at the request of President Hadi.
Thanks to the ground fighting and a Saudi blockade on Yemen’s air and seaports, more than 20 million people – two thirds of the country – are now reliant on aid to survive. The worst outbreak of cholera in modern history is expected to infect one million Yemenis before the year’s end.
“It’s not clear yet what the death of Ali Abdullah Saleh will mean for the people of Yemen,” Caroline Anning, a Save the Children conflict and humanitarian advocacy advisor, told The Independent from Sanaa.
“Guns have fallen silent for the moment in this neighbourhood, but we can still hear the jets overhead. The reality is, whatever happens to their leaders, Yemen is still in the grip of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
Following the news of Mr Saleh’s death President Hadi and his Saudi allies said on Monday that the exiled government could take advantage of the chaos to launch a major offensive on Sanaa, warning civilians to leave strategic neighbourhoods
Fighting appeared to have quieted down across the city by Monday evening.
Initial reports of Mr Saleh’s death came after his house in the capital was blown up by Houthi mortars. His whereabouts were unknown for several hours on Monday before confirmation came he had been killed.
The former president ruled over unified Yemen since its creation in 1990 until Arab Spring protests eventually forced him from office in 2012. He once described running the country as like “dancing on the heads of snakes”.