Yemen’s Saleh treated at military hospital following palace shelling


Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh was wounded along with his premier and other officials when shells fired by dissident tribesmen smashed into a mosque on Friday, as fighting spread and Yemen teetered towards civil war, Al Arabiya reported.

Al Arabiya cited a ruling party official as saying that President Saleh was receiving treatment at a military hospital.

Yemen’s state news agency and government officials have said that Mr. Saleh was well and would appear later on Friday.

A leader of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party earlier said that Mr. Saleh was “lightly wounded in the back of his head,” in an attack a security official said also killed four officers of the elite Republican Guard.

Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujawar was also wounded, but the extent of his injuries was not immediately clear.

In an assurance to the Yemeni public, state television initially said that the president was “well,” and the defense ministry website reported Mr. Saleh would “issue a statement in the coming hours.”

“The president, may God protect him, is well and in good health and the news spread by Suhail channel is groundless,” state television said, but later said that the deputy information minister is the one who will give the press conference and not the president.

A source close to the presidency said deputy prime minister General Rashad Al Alimi was “critically wounded” when shells hit the mosque inside the presidential palace compound.

Officials said parliament chief Yahya al-Raie was also critically hurt, and the other wounded included Mr. Saleh’s private secretary Abdo Burji; Abdulaziz Abdulghani, head of Yemen’s consultative council; GPC MP Yasser al-Awadi; and Sana’a Governor Noman Duweik, according to Agence-France Presse.

The mosque attack came as fighting that has killed scores of people in north Sana’a spread to the south of the capital of the poverty-stricken Arabian Peninsula country of 24 million people.

Suhail TV, a channel controlled by Sheikh Hamid Al Ahmar, a leader of the biggest opposition party, had said Mr. Saleh was killed in the shelling.

Sheikh Hamid is brother of Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, whom GPC spokesman Tariq Al Shami blamed for the attack.

“The Ahmar (tribe) have crossed all red lines,” Mr. Shami said.

Mr. Ahmar later denied responsibility and blamed President Saleh for the attack, saying it was done to help justify a government escalation of street fighting in the capital, according to Reuters.

The secretary general of the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) urged all parties in Yemen to end the fighting.

“The ministerial council of the GCC is following with concern and sadness the deteriorating situation and the continued fighting. This situation is regrettable and benefits no one,” Abdul Lattif Al Zayani told Al Arabiya.

Later on Friday, Yemeni troops, who have deployed heavy weaponry in their battle against the tribesmen since Tuesday, sent a shell crashing into Sheikh Hamid’s home.

Shelling in Hada neighborhood also targeted the homes of their two other brothers Hemyar and Mizhij, and that of dissident General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar.

Sheikh Hamid spoke to AFP by phone and accused the 65-year-old president of orchestrating the mosque attack as an “excuse to shell and destroy my home and the homes of my brothers Hemyar and Mizhij and that of Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar in an attempt to drag Yemen into civil war.”

Mr. Saleh last month ordered the arrest of the 10 Ahmar brothers, all sons of Sheikh Abdullah Al Ahmar who was the president’s main ally until his death.

Three shells also struck near the university campus in the city center where Mr. Saleh’s opponents have staged a sit-in since late January.

After a brief lull at dawn, artillery and heavy machine-gun fire rocked the Al Hassaba neighborhood of northern Sana’a where Sheikh Sadiq has his base, witnesses said.

They said that during the fighting the headquarters of national airline Yemenia was burnt down.

Even as the fighting raged, rival demonstrators took to the streets of Sana’a, witnesses said.

Hundreds of anti-Saleh demonstrators gathered at Change Square, near the university, for a day of solidarity with Taez, south of Sana’a, where security forces this week smashed a months-long sit-in protest at a cost of more than 50 lives.

As on past Fridays, the Muslim day of weekly prayers, a large crowd of Mr. Saleh supporters also gathered at a square near the presidential palace.

In Taez, security forces backed by Republican Guards fired in the air to prevent youths from rallying in Tahrir Square for Friday prayers, an AFP photographer said.

More than 60 people have now been confirmed killed in the fighting in Sana’a since a fragile four-day truce collapsed on Tuesday between Mr. Ahmar’s heavily armed tribesmen and troops loyal to President Saleh.

Mr. Saleh, who has been in power in Sana’a since 1978, has faced nationwide protests against his rule for the past four months.

Nationwide, more than 200 demonstrators have been killed since the protests erupted, according to an AFP tally based on reports from medics.

Last month when Mr. Saleh refused to sign a plan by Yemen’s Arab neighbors in the Gulf for him to step down in return for immunity, Mr. Ahmar fighters seized public buildings in Sana’a, sparking clashes with troops loyal to the president.

The White House said Thursday its top counter-terrorism aide John Brennan, currently in the Gulf, was working with US allies in the region to build pressure on Mr. Saleh to immediately cede power.

By clinging stubbornly to power, Mr. Saleh has exasperated his former US and Saudi allies who had once seen him as a key partner in efforts to combat Al Qaeda’s ambitious Yemen-based wing, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Yemen’s increasingly bloody struggle looks sure to go on as long as Mr. Saleh refuses to step down and it will complicate the already formidable challenge of uniting the country and rebuilding shattered state institutions in any post-Saleh era.

Instability in Yemen could threaten regional security and possibly global oil supplies due to its proximity to the world's largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, and vital shipping lanes.

“The dangers a collapsed Yemen poses for the region are too horrendous to contemplate," Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates and senior analyst at Political Capital, told Reuters.

“Although the border with Saudi Arabia is more secure than in recent years, it is still a relatively porous border. The consequences will be on the security front, as well as economic. AQAP in particular will find comfort in a failed Yemen, and threaten the rest of the GCC and (this) will have implications for piracy across the Gulf of Aden,” he said.

Yemen is engulfed in multiple conflicts, with street battles between tribal groups and President Saleh’s forces in Sana’a, popular unrest across the country and fighting against AQAP and other Islamist militants who seized the coastal city of Zinjibar.

One constant factor is Yemen’s crippling poverty. Jobs and food are scarce, corruption is rampant and two-fifths of the 23 million people struggle to live on less than $2 a day.

“Economic migrants will also pose a challenge for the region. We are getting very close to an irreversible situation,” Mr. Nuseibeh said. Tribes might start fighting among themselves, especially those close to the Saudis and those which are not.

“The danger is that this civil war is not along north-south lines but more internalized, within regions. When the conflict turns tribal, as well as nationalistic along the former north-south borders, it becomes very difficult to stop.”

(Abeer Tayel, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at [email protected]. Dina Al Shibeeb, also an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: [email protected])