Trump pulls U.S. from Iran nuclear deal, to revive sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to a question from the media as National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence look on after the president announced his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was reimposing economic sanctions on Iran and pulling the United States out of an international agreement aimed at stopping Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

The decision is likely to raise the risk of conflict in the Middle East, upset America’s European allies and disrupt global oil supplies.

“I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said at the White House. “In a few moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanctions.”

The 2015 deal, worked out by the United States, five other international powers and Iran, eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program.

Trump says the agreement, the signature foreign policy achievement of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 nor its role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Iran has ruled out renegotiating the agreement and threatened to retaliate, although it has not said exactly how, if Washington pulled out.

Renewing sanctions would make it much harder for Iran to sell its oil abroad or use the international banking system.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice, Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Ayenat Mersie in New York, Sybille de La Hamaide, John Irish and Tim Hepher in Paris, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Andrew Torchia in Dubai; Writing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell; Editing by Peter Graff, Yara Bayoumy and Bill Trott)

Saudi-led air strike kills 12 civilians, including seven children: medics

Morgue workers sort plastic bags containing bodies of an airstrike victims in Hodeida, Yemen April 2, 2018. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

HODEIDAH, Yemen (Reuters) – An air strike by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen killed 12 civilians including seven children in the coastal city of Hodeidah on Monday, medics and a witness said.

Medics and a civilian who saw the wreckage said the air strike had destroyed a house in the al-Hali district, where displaced civilians from other provinces were settled.

The 12 victims were all from the same family, they said.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition told Reuters: “We take this report very seriously and it will be fully investigated as all reports of this nature are – using an internationally approved, independent process. Whilst this is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Hodeidah is home to the impoverished country’s biggest port from where most of the humanitarian aid reaches millions of civilians on the brink of famine. The operation of port, controlled by the Iran-aligned Houthis, was not affected by the air strike.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates intervened in a civil war in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The alliance, which includes other Sunni Muslim states, has conducted thousands of air strikes targeting Houthi fighters and has often hit civilian areas, although it denies ever doing so intentionally.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and driven the country – already the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula – to the verge of famine.

Last week the Houthis launched a flurry of missiles which Saudi Arabia said it had intercepted over Riyadh. Debris from the missiles fell on a home, killing one person.

Rights watchdog Human Rights Watch on Monday said the Houthi attack had violated the laws of war by indiscriminately targeting populated areas.

“The Houthis should immediately stop their indiscriminate missile attacks on populated areas of Saudi Arabia,” said Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson.

“But just as unlawful coalition airstrikes don’t justify the Houthis’ indiscriminate attacks, the Saudis can’t use Houthi rockets to justify impeding life-saving goods for Yemen’s civilian population.”

When the Houthis fired missiles at Riyadh last November, the coalition responded by shutting Yemen’s airports and ports. The United Nations said that blockade raised the danger of mass starvation, and it was partially lifted.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams and Hugh Lawson)

Defying U.S., Russia says no case for U.N. action against Iran

Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012, a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia does not believe there is a case for United Nations action against Iran, Russia’s U.N. ambassador said on Wednesday after traveling to Washington to view pieces of weapons that Washington says Tehran gave Yemen’s Houthi group.

The Trump administration has for months been lobbying for Iran to be held accountable at the United Nations, while at the same time threatening to quit a 2015 deal among world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program if “disastrous flaws” are not fixed.

“We only heard some vague talk about some action,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Wednesday. “If there is something (proposed) we will see. How can we pass judgment prematurely before we know what it is about?”

Asked if there was a case against Iran at the United Nations, Nebenzia answered: “No.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley took her 14 Security Council colleagues to a military hangar near Washington on Monday to see remnants of what the Pentagon said was an Iranian-made ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Nov. 4 at Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, as well as other weapons.

A proxy war is playing out in Yemen between Iran and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. Iran has denied supplying the Iran-allied Houthis with such weaponry and described the arms displayed in Washington as “fabricated.”

“Yemen hosts a pile of weapons from the old days, many countries competing to supply weapons to Yemen during the time of (former) President (Ali Abdullah) Saleh, so I cannot give you anything conclusive,” Nebenzia said. “I am not an expert to judge.”

Independent U.N. experts reported to the Security Council in January that Iran had violated U.N. sanctions on Yemen because “it failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of ballistic missiles and other equipment to the Houthi group.

Nebenzia questioned whether there was conclusive evidence. He said it was up to the Security Council’s Yemen sanctions committee – made up of diplomats from the council’s 15 members – to address the report by the U.N. experts.

Haley has said the United States was considering several possible U.N. options for action against Iran, including tightening ballistic missile restrictions on Tehran or imposing targeting sanctions on Iranian individuals or entities.

Diplomats have said Haley has not signaled which accountability option she might pursue or when.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Howard Goller)

Senior Yemen Qaeda leader calls for knife and car attacks on Jews

Defying warnings of new conflict, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

DUBAI (Reuters) – A senior leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen branch has called for knife and car attacks on Jews in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the U.S. SITE monitoring group said on Tuesday.

Citing a video recording by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s al-Malahem media foundation, SITE said that Khaled Batarfi, believed to be the number two man in AQAP after Qassim al-Raymi, also warned that no Muslim had the right to cede any part of Jerusalem.

“The Muslims inside the occupied land must kill every Jew, by running him over, or stabbing him, or by using against him any weapon, or by burning their homes,” Batarfi said in the 18-minute-long recording entitled “Our duty towards our Jerusalem”, according to SITE.

“Every Muslim must know that the Americans and the disbeliever West, and on top of them Britain and France, are the original reason behind the existence of the Jews in Palestine.”

Trump enraged Muslims last month when he announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said he intends to transfer the U.S. embassy there.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a regional visit, said on Monday that the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv before the end of 2019.

Batarfi was one of some 150 jailed AQAP members who were freed when the militant group, regarded by the United States as one of the deadliest branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden, captured the Yemeni port city of Mukalla in 2015, where he was held.

Yemeni forces, baked by a Saudi-led coalition have since recaptured Mukalla and driven AQAP out, but Batarfi, who has since assumed a senior position in the group, remains at large.

AQAP has plotted to down U.S. airliners and claimed responsibility for 2015 attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. AQAP also has boasted of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and the Pentagon estimates it has between about 2,000 and 3,000 fighters.

Batarfi said Muslims in Western countries, including the United States, were obliged to target the interests of Jews and the Americans.

“They must be eager to prepare themselves as much as possible, and to carry out jihadi operations against them,” he added, according to SITE.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City with its holy sites, as the capital of their own future state. Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in 1967 in a move not internationally recognized, regards all of the city as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi)

United Nations hopes imports will help stave off famine in Yemen as diphtheria spreads

A nurse holds a premature baby in an incubator at the child care unit of a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen January 16, 2018.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations aid agencies called on Tuesday for the Yemeni port of Hodeidah to remain open beyond Friday, the date set by a Saudi-led military coalition, to permit continued delivery of life-saving goods.

Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, where 8.3 million people are entirely dependent on external food aid and 400,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, a potentially lethal condition, they said.

The Arab coalition, under international pressure, eased a three-week blockade which was imposed on Yemeni ports and airports in November in response to a ballistic missile fired by the Houthi movement toward the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Four mobile cranes arrived in the important Houthi-controlled Hodeidah port, the U.N. said on Monday, after the coalition agreed to let them into Yemen, where nearly three years of war have pushed it to the verge of famine.

“The port in theory is going be open to the 19th of this month. Then we don’t know if the coalition will close or (leave) it open,” Meritxell Relano, U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Yemen, told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Obviously the feeling is that they extend this period so that the commercial goods can come in, but especially the fuel,” she said, speaking from the capital Sanaa.

Before the conflict, Hodeidah port handled around 70 percent of Yemen’s imports, including food and humanitarian supplies.

Fuel is vital to power water and sanitation stations to provide clean water and help avoid diseases, she said.

More than 11 million Yemeni children – virtually all – need humanitarian assistance, Relano said. UNICEF figures show 25,000 Yemeni babies die at birth or before the age of one month.

A child lies in a bed at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen January 16, 2018

A child lies in a bed at a hospital in Sanaa, Yemen January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

“Yemen is in the grips of the world’s biggest hunger crisis,” World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said. “This is a nightmare that is happening right now.”

“We appeal to parties on (the) ground in order to stave off famine that we can continue regularly to get food in, to get medicines in, to get fuel in, be it from the humanitarian or the commercial side,” she said.

Luescher, asked about prospects for the Hodeidah port lifeline to remain open, replied: “Obviously since the cranes were imported and are operational, we are hopeful and optimistic that our work can continue.”

A diphtheria outbreak in Yemen is “spreading quickly”, with 678 cases and 48 associated deaths in four months, Fadela Chaib of the World Health Organisation said.

The number of cases has doubled since Dec 22, when the WHO reported 333 people affected by the highly-contagious disease, with 35 deaths. Ibb and Hodeidah are the worst-hit of the 19 affected governorates, Chaib said.

“We can stop the outbreak by providing antibiotics and also vaccinating,” she said. Some 2.5 million doses have been imported for a planned immunization campaign, she said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Larry King, William Maclean)

Food security in Middle East, North Africa deteriorating, says U.N. agency

A Syrian woman and her children wait for food aid in front of an humanitarian aid distrubition center in Syrian border town of Jarablus, Syria, December 13, 2017.

CAIRO (Reuters) – Food security in the Middle East and North Africa is quickly deteriorating because of conflict in several countries in the region, the United Nations said on Thursday.

In those hardest hit by crises — Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Sudan — an average of more than a quarter of the population was undernourished, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in its annual report on food security.

A quarter of Yemen’s people are on the brink of famine, several years into a proxy war between the Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi that has caused one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in recent times.

The report focused on changes to food security and nutrition across the region since 2000.

It said that undernourishment in countries not directly affected by conflict, such as most Gulf Arab states and most North African countries including Egypt, had slowly improved in the last decade. But it had worsened in conflict-hit countries.

“The costs of conflict can be seen in the measurements of food insecurity and malnutrition,” the FAO’s assistant director-general Abdessalam Ould Ahmed said.

“Decisive steps towards peace and stability (need to be) taken.”

Several countries in the region erupted into conflict following uprisings in 2011 that overthrew leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Syria’s civil war, which also began with popular demonstrations, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made more than 11 million homeless.

(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Saudi-led air strikes kill 136 civilians in Yemen: U.N.

Saudi-led air strikes kill 136 civilians in Yemen: U.N.

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – Air strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen have killed at least 136 civilians and non-combatants since Dec. 6, the U.N. human rights spokesman said on Tuesday.

Other U.N. officials said the coalition was maintaining tight restrictions on ships reaching Yemen even though 8 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine with the country relying on imports for the bulk of its food, fuel and medicine.

“We are deeply concerned at the recent surge in civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of intensified air strikes by the … coalition, following the killing of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on Dec. 4,” human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

Incidents verified by the U.N. human rights office included seven air strikes on a prison in the Shaub district of Sanaa on Dec. 13 that killed at least 45 detainees thought to be loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is backed by Saudi Arabia.

“One can assume that was a mistake, they weren’t intending to kill prisoners from their own side,” Colville said. “It’s an illustration of lack of due precaution.”

Other air strikes killed 14 children and six adults in a farmhouse in Hodeidah governorate on Dec. 15, as well as a woman and nine children returning from a wedding party in Marib governorate on Dec. 16, he said.

Air strikes verified by the U.N. rights office in Sanaa, Saada, Hodeidah and Taiz governorates also injured 87 civilians.

“If in a specific event due precaution is not taken or civilians are deliberately targeted, that can easily be a war crime,” Colville said.

It is up to a court to make a ruling, he said, but there had been so many similar incidents in Yemen, it would be hard to conclude war crimes had not taken place.

On Tuesday Saudi air defenses intercepted a ballistic missile fired towards the capital Riyadh but there were no reports of casualties, the coalition said, the latest in a series of attacks by the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen.

The restrictions on access to Yemen imposed by the coalition became a total blockade on Nov. 6 though conditions were eased on Nov. 25 to allow aid ships and some commercial cargoes to reach the shattered Arabian Peninsula country.

The U.N. World Food Programme has brought in enough food for 1.8 million people for two months, but far more is needed.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

In first, U.S. presents its evidence of Iran weaponry from Yemen

In first, U.S. presents its evidence of Iran weaponry from Yemen

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday presented for the first time pieces of what it said were Iranian weapons supplied to the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in Yemen, describing it as conclusive evidence that Tehran was violating U.N. resolutions.

The arms included charred remnants of what the Pentagon said was an Iranian-made short-range ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Nov. 4 at King Khaled International Airport outside Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, as well as a drone and an anti-tank weapon recovered in Yemen by the Saudis.

Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with such weaponry and on Thursday described the arms displayed as “fabricated.”

The United States acknowledged it could not say precisely when the weapons were transferred to the Houthis, and, in some cases, could not say when they were used. There was no immediate way to independently verify where the weapons were made or employed.

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley expressed confidence the transfers could be blamed on Tehran.

“These are Iranian made, these are Iranian sent, and these were Iranian given,” Haley told a news conference at a military hangar at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, just outside Washington.

All of the recovered weapons were provided to the United States by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Pentagon said. Saudi-led forces, which back the Yemeni government, have been fighting the Houthis in Yemen’s more than two-year-long civil war.

The unprecedented presentation – which Haley said involved intelligence that had to be declassified – is part of President Donald Trump’s new Iran policy, which promises a harder line toward Tehran. That would appear to include a new diplomatic initiative.

“You will see us build a coalition to really push back against Iran and what they’re doing,” Haley said, standing in front of what she said were the remnants of the Nov. 4 missile.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who view Tehran as a threat, seized upon the U.S. presentation in calls on Thursday for international action.

Still, it was unclear whether the new evidence would be enough to win support for sanctions on Iran from some U.N. Security Council members, like Russia or China.

British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said he didn’t think “there’s anything that could convince some of my council colleagues” to take U.N. action against Iran. Still, he said “we’re going to be pursuing with them nonetheless.”

Under a U.N. resolution that enshrines the Iran nuclear deal with world powers, Tehran is prohibited from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved by the U.N. Security Council. A separate U.N. resolution on Yemen bans the supply of weapons to Houthi leaders.

Iran rejected the U.S. accusations as unfounded and Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, on Twitter, drew a parallel to assertions by then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations in 2003 about U.S. intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion.

IRAN LINKS

The Pentagon offered a detailed explanation of all of the reasons why it believed the arms came from Iran, noting what it said were Iranian corporate logos on arms fragments and the unique nature of the designs of Iranian weaponry.

That included the designs of short-range “Qiam” ballistic missiles. The Pentagon said it had obtained fragments of two Qiam missiles, one fired on Nov. 4 against the airport and another fired on July 22.

The Pentagon cited corporate logos it said matched those of Iranian defense firms on jet vanes that help steer the missile’s engine and on the circuit board helping drive its guidance system. It also said the missile’s unique valve-design was only found in Iran.

Iran, it said, appeared to have tried to cover up the shipment by disassembling the missile for transport, given crude welding used to stitch it back together.

“The point of this entire display is that only Iran makes this missile. They have not given it to anybody else,” Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal said. “We haven’t seen this in the hands of anyone else except Iran and the Houthis.”

A Dec. 8 U.N. report monitoring Iran sanctions found that the July 22 and Nov. 4 missiles fired at Saudi Arabia appeared to have a “common origin,” but U.N. officials were still investigating the claims that Iran supplied them.

A separate Nov. 24 U.N. report monitoring Yemen sanctions said four missiles fired into Saudi Arabia this year appear to have been designed and manufactured by Iran, but as yet there was “no evidence as to the identity of the broker or supplier.”

The U.N. Iran and Yemen sanctions monitors “saw a majority” of the weaponry displayed by Haley, said a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

The Pentagon put on display other weapons with designs it said were unique to Iran’s defense industry. It pointed to a key component of a Toophan anti-tank guided missile and a small drone aircraft, both of which it said were recovered in Yemen by the Saudis.

It also showed components of a drone-like navigation system like the one the Pentagon says was used by the Houthis to ram an exploding boat into a Saudi frigate on Jan. 30. The United Arab Emirates seized the system in late 2016 in the Red Sea, the Pentagon said.

The U.N. Security Council is due to be briefed publicly on the latest U.N. report monitoring Iran sanctions on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish)

More than 8 million Yemenis ‘a step away from famine’: U.N.

More than 8 million Yemenis 'a step away from famine': U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) – Warring sides must let more aid get through to 8.4 million people who are “a step away from famine” in Yemen, a senior U.N. official said on Monday.

A Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen’s civil war blockaded ports last month after a missile was fired toward Riyadh.

Jamie McGoldrick, the humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said the blockade has since been eased, but the situation remained dire.

“The continuing blockade of ports is limiting supplies of fuel, food and medicines; dramatically increasing the number of vulnerable people who need help,” McGoldrick said in a statement.

“The lives of millions of people, including 8.4 million Yemenis who are a step away from famine, hinge on our ability to continue our operations and to provide health, safe water, food, shelter and nutrition support,” he added.

That marked an increase from past U.N. estimates of around 8 million people on the brink of famine.

The coalition accuses Iran of sending weapons to its Houthi allies, including missile parts, through Yemen’s main Hodeidah port, were most food supplies enter.

Saudi state television said on Monday a U.N delegation of experts has arrived in Riyadh to meet the coalition and the Yemeni government the coalition supports “to prevent the transfer of weapons and rockets to Houthis”.

Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with weapons, saying the U.S. and Saudi allegations are “baseless and unfounded”.

The United Nations says food shortages caused by the warring parties blocking supplies has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Saudis intervened in neighboring Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis advanced on the southern port city of Aden and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government into exile.

The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and triggered a cholera epidemic that has infected about 1 million people.

The U.S. government on Friday called on the Saudi-led military coalition to facilitate the free flow of humanitarian aid to all of Yemen’s ports and through Sana’a airport.

A senior State Department official told reporters in Geneva on Monday that the United States had provided nearly $638 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen in the U.S. fiscal year 2017 that ended on Sept 30.

“We have called on both sides to stop the fighting and seek a political solution to the problem,” the official said.

He said the United States had made its position clear to its allies to end the blockade and called on the Houthis to allow access for humanitarian supplies as “there are shocking shortage of food, fuel and medicines that are causing great suffering”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Writing by Reem Shamseddine and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alison Williams)

Yemen’s ex-president Saleh shot dead after switching sides in civil war

A supporter of Yemen's then President Ali Abdullah Saleh waves a poster featuring him during a rally to show support for him in Sanaa September 9, 2011.

By Noah Browning and Sami Aboudi

SANAA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Veteran former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in a roadside attack on Monday after switching sides in Yemen’s civil war, abandoning his Iran-aligned Houthi allies in favor of a Saudi-led coalition, foes and supporters said.

Sources in the Houthi militia said its fighters stopped Saleh’s armored vehicle with an RPG rocket outside the embattled capital Sanaa and then shot him dead. Sources in Saleh’s party confirmed he died in an attack on his convoy.

Unverified footage of his bloodied body lolling in a blanket circulated just days after he tore up his alliance with the Houthis following nearly three years in which they had jointly battled the Saudi-led coalition that intervened to try to reinstate Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

Saleh’s death, close watchers of Yemen say, will be a huge moral boost for the Houthis and a major blow to the Saudi-led coalition. Any hope of the coalition that Saleh could have been bought off to help them against the Houthis has now been dashed and the Houthis have destroyed a powerful new adversary.

The coalition must either continue its long war in Yemen or offer compromises to bring the Houthis to the negotiating table.

In a televised speech on Monday, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi congratulated the Yemeni people for what he described as a victory against a “conspiracy of treason” engineered by the group’s Gulf Arab enemies. He did not mention Saleh’s death.

Supporters of the Houthis drove through city streets blasting celebratory war songs.

Saleh, 75, had said in a speech on Saturday that he was ready for a “new page” in ties with the coalition and called the Houthis a “coup militia”, leading them to accuse him of betrayal.

Warfare between the former allies has torn densely populated Sanaa for days as Houthi fighters seized control of much of the capital and on Monday blew up Saleh’s house while coalition jets bombed their own positions.

A Houthi militant mans a checkpoint as clashes with forces loyal to Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh continue in Sanaa, Yemen December 4, 2017.

A Houthi militant mans a checkpoint as clashes with forces loyal to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh continue in Sanaa, Yemen December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The end of their alliance could transform the course of war in the Arabian Peninsula country after two years of attrition along mostly static front lines, which gave the Saudi-led coalition a new advantage over the Houthis.

Stalemate in Yemen has contributed to a human catastrophe as a Saudi-led blockade and internal fighting has thrust millions of people to the brink of famine and accelerated the spread of deadly epidemics.

Eyes will now turn to Saleh’s political allies and military commanders, whom analysts credited with aiding the Houthi march southwards in 2014 to dominate swathes of western Yemen.

“What happens now and whether his family and political allies fight on is not yet clear,” said Adam Baron, a Yemen expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“His people will be angry, and many will certainly be out for blood, but there are many in the middle especially among the tribes who will fall with whoever appears stronger,” he said.

“The (Saudi-led) coalition may have put a lot of their eggs in Saleh’s basket, only for it to fall over now. They appeared to strongly support his attempt to confront the Houthis and now that bid may have failed.”

 

HEADS OF SNAKES

A Western diplomat told Reuters: “Brutal revenge could be the only way forward for the Saleh clan.”

The Saudi-led coalition, the diplomat added, could aim for a lightning attack on key urban centers that have eluded their grasp in years of war.

“Let’s see if they take advantage of the fog of war and try to take Sanaa or (the Red Sea port) of Hodeidah.”

Saleh once compared his 33-year rule over Yemen to “dancing on the heads of snakes”, a period that included unification of conservative north and Marxist south Yemen, civil war, uprisings, Islamist militant campaigns and tribal feuds.

But he was forced from power in 2012 after an Arab Spring uprising that left him wounded by an attempted assassination, leading to a Saudi-brokered political transition.

He fled to Saudi Arabia, his former ally, for treatment of his injuries and the princes in Riyadh allowed him to return to Yemen months later – something they came to bitterly regret as he undermined the transition plan and later joined the Houthis.

That set the stage for his final role – that of ally to the Houthi movement which he had previously fought six times during his own presidency, and to Iran, the Houthis’ political backer.

But Houthi and Saleh loyalist forces jostled for supremacy over the territory they ran together, including Sanaa, which the Houthis seized in September 2014, and their feud burst into open combat on Nov. 29.

The maneuvering ended on Monday, as footage circulating on social media appeared to show his corpse, a deep wound in the side of its head, wrapped in a red blanket and being loaded onto a pick-up truck as tribal fighters waved their weapons.

“Praise God!” and “Hey Ali Affash!” (another name for Saleh) they were shouting.

Officials in his own General People’s Congress party said Saleh was killed outside Sanaa in an RPG and gun assault on his convoy along with the GPC’s assistant secretary general Yasser al-Awadi.

His death was confirmed by Saleh’s nephew and former chief of Yemen’s security forces, Yahya Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, who hailed him as a martyr on his official Facebook page.

 

STREET BATTLES EASE IN SANAA

Residents reported that the situation in Sanaa had calmed. Most people were indoors, and streets were deserted amid a state of fear as the Houthis asserted full control. Saudi-led aircraft continued to fly overhead.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam claimed significant gains in the battle for Sanaa on Monday.

“With the aid and approval of God, the security forces backed up by wide popular support were able last night to cleanse the areas in which the militias of treason and betrayal were deployed,” he said in a statement.

The Houthi movement’s TV channel al-Masirah and witnesses said Houthi fighters had seized the downtown home of Saleh’s nephew Tareq, an army general.

Residents said the warring sides traded heavy automatic and artillery fire as the Houthis advanced in the central Political District, which is a redoubt of Saleh and his family.

“We lived through days of terror. Houthi tanks have been firing and the shells were falling on our neighborhood,” said Mohammed al-Madhaji, who lives in the frontline district.

“The fighting has been so violent we feel we could die at any moment. We can’t get out of our homes.”

Houthi media and political sources also reported the Houthis advancing towards Saleh’s birthplace in a village outside Sanaa where he maintained a fortified palace.

Saleh cultivated Yemen’s national army for decades and put key units under the command of relatives, but the speed of the Houthis’ apparent gains over his partisans indicates they have a strong upper hand in the lands they once held together.

Nearly three years of Houthi control over key ministries and state media has helped convert much of Yemeni society toward their brand of religiously-inspired militarism while key tribal and military commanders did not flock to Saleh’s uprising.

This may mean that Houthi positions in nationwide battlefronts against pro-Saudi forces will remain robust with the overall stalemate dragging on.

 

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Noah Browning, Angus McDowall and Samia Nakhoul; editing by Mark Heinrich)