First Published: 2017-09-21

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover
Tens of thousands of Yemeni rebel supporters take to streets amid high security to celebrate anniversary of capture of city's key institutions.
Middle East Online

"From this blessed square we will liberate all of Yemen," Habtoor told crowds

SANAA - Yemen's Huthi rebels marked the third anniversary of their takeover of Sanaa on Thursday, gathering tens of thousands of supporters in a show of force as Saudi-led coalition warplanes flew over the capital.

The Huthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh captured Sanaa on September 21, 2014, plunging Yemen into chaos and prompting a Saudi-led coalition to intervene against them the next year.

On Thursday, coalition jets could be heard in the skies of Sanaa, as the crowds -- Huthi and Saleh backers -- massed in the capital's Sabaeen Square, a photographer said.

On the ground, security forces were on high alert, searching vehicles rigorously as they entered the capital and approached the square.

A massive stage hosted a string of speeches, punctuated by an all-men's choir, dressed in traditional Yemeni clothes, belting out military anthems.

"From this blessed square we will liberate all of Yemen," the head of the rebel government, Abdel Aziz bin Habtoor, told the crowds.

"We will not compromise on the liberation of our lands," he said.

He accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a key coalition member, of "direct occupation" of Yemen's southern and some of its eastern regions.

The defiant speech came a week after rebel leader Abdul Malik al-Huthi threatened to fire missiles at the United Arab Emirates and to attack Saudi tankers in the Red Sea.

Three years ago to the day, the Shiite Huthis overran Sanaa, taking over the government headquarters and military sites with the aid of forces loyal to Saleh.

By January 2015, they forced President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Yemen's second city, Aden, which he later declared as "provisional capital".

In March that year, the Saudi-led coalition started its military campaign aimed at rolling back Huthi gains and restoring Hadi to power.

The ensuing war has killed more than 8,500 people and wounded nearly 49,000, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 17 million Yemenis are now facing dire food shortages, and a nationwide cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,100 people since April.

- Opening for dialogue? -

Yemen is today split in two, with the Huthi-Saleh camp controlling the north and coalition-backed pro-government forces fighting the Huthis as well as jihadists -- including Al-Qaeda -- in the south.

The capital is jointly controlled by the Huthis and forces loyal to the former president.

Saleh ruled Yemen with an iron fist for more than three decades before stepping down in 2012 after a bloody year-long uprising.

He was long an enemy of the Huthis, before becoming their key ally.

Between 2004 and 2010, Saleh fought several wars against the Huthis in northern Yemen, who had long complained of marginalisation.

The rebel alliance saw unprecedented infighting last month, with tensions spilling over into the streets of Sanaa when a colonel with Saleh's forces and two Huthis were killed in a shootout.

That came after the former president referred to his allies as a "militia", with the rebels firing back that he was a "back-stabber" and a "traitor".

Saleh's party warned the shootout could push the capital into all-out war, but on September 5 the former president said there was "no crisis and conflict at the moment".

April Longley Alley, a Yemen analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the Huthis and Saleh would likely maintain their alliance as long as the war dragged on.

"Ideological and political differences between the two are real and festering. But they also know that a military split would benefit their enemies," she said.

The recent public rift between the Huthis and Saleh could, however, provide an opening for dialogue, she said.

"Saudi Arabia, in concert with Kuwait and Oman, should call all Yemeni parties to the negotiating table," Alley said.

Otherwise, she said, "Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and a small group of warlords that span the various fighting factions are the only clear winners."

 

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities

US-led air strikes kill 23 civilians in Syria

Israel union calls nationwide strike over pharmaceutical giant job cuts

UN envoy urges Putin to press Assad for elections

Yemen's Huthi rebels release pro-Saleh media staff

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison

Saudi king says Palestinians have 'right' to Jerusalem

Erdogan urges world to recognise Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Saudi King says determined to confront corruption

South Sudan needs $1.7 billion humanitarian aid in 2018

UAE oil giant floats 10 percent of retail arm to strong interest

US skeptical about Putin's declaration of military victory in Syria

Growing concern about rise of far-right in Austria

Saudi, UAE seeks to help West Africa fight terrorism

Somali journalist dies after Mogadishu bombing

Israeli sentenced to four years for arson attack on church

Erdogan risks sabotaging fragile relations with Israel

6.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Iran

Two Gazans killed by Israeli ‘strike’, Israel denies claim