Sanaa residents shelter from 'street war' as clashes rage

AFP , Sunday 3 Dec 2017

Yemeni families
A Yemeni family carries their belongings as the flee an area in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 3, 2017, during clashes between Huthi rebels and supporters of Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh (Photo: AFP)

Fresh clashes forced schools shut and shops shuttered in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Sunday, as residents warned a three-year rebel alliance was crumbling into a "street war".

Witnesses said forces loyal to powerful ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh had cut off a number of streets in central Sanaa and deployed heavily in anticipation of a possible attack by the Huthi rebels.

Loyalists of the former strongman renewed a bid to seize control of Al-Jarraf district, a stronghold of the Iran-backed Huthis, while the rebels fortified their positions with dozens of vehicles mounted with machine guns.

Residents of various neighbourhoods said they had barricaded themselves in their homes to avoid snipers and shelling as clashes flared up around key ministries where the two sides had been working together just days before.

The education ministry cancelled classes Sunday, normally the start of the school week, out of concern for students and teachers.

Witnesses said some of the bodies from previous days' clashes were still strewn in the capital.

Iyad al-Othmani, 33, said he had not left his house for three days because of the clashes and tensions.

Mohammed Abdullah, a private sector employee, said his street had been cut off by militiamen and he was staying home to avoid checkpoints.

"Sanaa is becoming like a ghost town. There is a street war and people are holed up in their houses," according to a local activist who works with the International Organisation for Migration in Sanaa.

"If the confrontation continues, many families will be cut off" and stranded in their homes, he warned.

Yemen's rebel alliance controlling Sanaa has unravelled in recent days with security forces reporting some 60 combatants killed in clashes between the two sides across the capital, including at the international airport.

On Saturday, Saleh reaching out to a Saudi-led coalition that launched a military intervention against the Huthis in 2015, offering to "turn the page" if the coalition lifts a crippling blockade on the country.

Sanaa airport and rebel-held sea ports have been under a tightened blockade since a missile fired by the Huthis was intercepted near Riyadh last month.

Saleh's sudden about-face sparked warnings of retribution by the Huthis, who accused him of staging a "coup against our alliance".

The coalition carried out dawn air raids against Huthi positions in the hills south of Sanaa on Sunday, but it was not clear if the strikes were meant to benefit Saleh's forces.

A coalition spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Yemen war has claimed more than 8,750 lives since Saudi Arabia and its allies joined the internationally recognised government's fight against the rebels in 2015. The country is now facing what the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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