SWEIMEH, Jordan – Ali Abdullah Saleh, the ousted strongman who once governed Yemen and then conspired with Iranian-backed rebels to claw his way back to power, was killed on Monday in the nation’s capital, Sana, according to multiple reports from rival factions clashing there.
The death of Mr Saleh will probably increase escalating tensions between the 2 regional heavyweights, Saudi Arabia and Iran, who’ve clashed indirectly through the Yemeni fighting.
His demise removes among the wiliest and best-connected players in Yemeni politics, further diminishing desires of an imminent resolution to the catastrophic civil war that has gripped Yemen for more than 2 years.
It may easily kick off new violence between his followers and the Iran-allied Houthi unit, which later fought together with Mr Saleh and his supporters but had previously fought against them.
The reports of Mr Saleh’s fatality, after an explosion at his family’s compound, came just 2 days after he seemed to change sides for the 2nd time between Saudi-allied and Iran-linked factions in Yemen.
As president, Mr Saleh had been a close ally of both Saudi Arabia and America, which considered him an ally in the battle against Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen and a bulwark against the influence of Iran through its allies, the Houthi.
After he was taken out of office in 2011 in a deal to get rid of the Arab Spring uprising in Yemen, however, Mr Saleh struck an alliance with the Houthis. In 2015, forces loyal to him helped the Houthis seize control of the capital and much of the country.
In retaliation, Saudi Arabia, supported by the United Arab Emirates and with help from Washington, launched an air campaign and a blockade against the rebel group.
But on Saturday, Mr Saleh seemed to change teams once more. In a televised speech, he blamed the “idiocy” of the Shiite Houthis for the years of war in Yemen.
He said he was prepared to turn a “new page” in his bond with the Saudi-led coalition if its forces ceased attacking Yemen.
Which side may have bombed Mr Saleh’s home – Houthis furious at his betrayal or the Saudi-led bombing campaign – and the exact circumstances surrounding his end were not immediately clear.
There were unconfirmed reports that he had been killed while attempting to flee the location.
The Interior Ministry, which is managed by Houthi rebels, said that Mr Saleh had been killed, and a video circulated online that purported showing the former president’s body, although it could hardly be independently verified.
Ali al-Bukhaiti, a Yemeni politician who is linked with Mr Saleh’s party, the General People’s Congress, also reported the president had passed away. “The news is 100 % true,” he said.
Ahmad al-Hawaii, a citizen of Sana, was told by relatives living close to Mr Saleh’s complex that it had been bombed by rebels, and an official in the General People’s Congress also said the complex, on a busy street, had been bombed.
The official declined to be identified by name because he had not been authorized to talk with reporters.
Saleh had been had been known for years as a shrewd and dogged survivor of Yemen’s tangled, tribal politics. He once compared his years in the workplace to “dancing on the heads of snakes.”
The weekend manoeuvring came as Mr Saleh’s supporters fought Houthi adversaries for the 4th day in Sana. At least 80 citizens were reported killed as the fighting threatened to escalate.
On Sunday, Houthi rebels said they had terminated a cruise missile at a $20 billion nuclear facility under construction in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, which is allied with Saudi Arabia. But a state-run news agency in the United Arab Emirates denied the assertion.
The fighting in Yemen has been followed by signs of famine and outbreaks of cholera as humanitarian conditions have sharply deteriorated.