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."

 

Moscow seeks to boost its influence in Kurdistan through oil

Tillerson does not expect Gulf crisis to be resolved soon

35 Egyptian police killed in Islamist ambush

How Raqa recapture affects complex Syrian war

Ancient Turkish town set to vanish forever under floodwaters

Morocco recalls Algeria envoy over 'hashish money' jibe

Ceremony marks 75 years since WWII Battle of El Alamein

Somalia attack death toll rises to 358

Long road ahead for families of jailed Morocco protesters

Israel hits Syrian artillery after Golan fire

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike

Yemen rebel youth minister urges children to join war

Iran's Guards show no intention of curbing activities in Mideast

EU will cut some money for Turkey as ties sour

Iraqi workers return to oil fields retaken from Kurds

Kurdish disarray shows resurgence of Iraq's army

Iranian military chief visits frontline near Syria's Aleppo

Iraq army takes last Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 110 people over Gulen links

Lebanon approves first budget since 2005

Hamas calls US unity comments ‘blatant interference’

OPEC chief pleased with oil market rebalancing

Turkish police detain leading civil society figure

G7, tech giants meet to tackle terror online

Iraq’s Kurdish regional government open to Baghdad talks

Tensions flare among Yemen's rebels

Baghdad court issues arrest warrant for Iraqi Kurd VP

Erdogan, Nigerian counterpart to ramp up cooperation

Russian medics operate on Yemen's Saleh despite embargo

Baghdad condemns oil deal between Russia’s Rosneft, Kurds

Power shifts again in Iraq's multi-ethnic Kirkuk

Syrian general accused of journalist deaths killed in Deir Ezzor

Raqa liberators ready for civilian handover, on to next battle

Revolutionary Guards say Iranian missile program will continue

Erdogan calls on three major mayors to resign

ICC investigating several war crimes in Mali

Erdogan says may shut Iraqi border at any moment

Tunisian couple jailed for 'public indecency' over car kiss

Next round of Syria talks at end October

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

PSG's Khelaifi to be quizzed in Swiss World Cup probe