Yemen’s former president on Saturday proposed talks with Saudi Arabia after an apparent split in the rebel alliance that could change the course of the war that has left thousands dead and the country on the brink of famine.
Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who formed an uneasy alliance with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to take control of the capital three years ago, said Saturday he was prepared to “turn the page” with the Saudi-led coalition he has been fighting if it lifts a crippling blockade on Yemen.
It came on the fourth day of fighting between Mr Saleh’s supporters and Houthi fighters in the capital Sanaa, in a widening rift between the allies.
The Saudi-led coalition started attacking in Yemen in 2015 in a bid to restore the official government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the Houthis forced him into exile.
Yemen is one of the Middle East’s poorest countries, and the war has caused one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of recent years.
A Saudi blockade and embargo on international aid has further devastated the country. Theresa May last week urged the kingdom to lift the blockade “as a matter of urgency”.
Mr Saleh said Saturday in a televised speech that he would consider starting afresh with Saudi Arabia.
“I call upon the brothers in neighbouring states and the alliance to stop their aggression, lift the siege, open the airports and allow food aid and the saving of the wounded and we will turn a new page by virtue of our neighbourliness,” he said.
At a glance | Yemen
“We will deal with them in a positive way and what happened to Yemen is enough,” he added.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis praised Mr Saleh on Saturday for “taking the lead”. “The decision by [Mr Saleh’s] General People’s Congress to take the lead and their choice to side with their people will free Yemen of… militias loyal to Iran,” the coalition said in a statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency.
His U-turn prompted warnings of retribution by the Houthis. As Mr Saleh made the announcement, it was reported that more than 100 had been killed by the violent clashes in Sanaa, most of them Houthi militias.
Much of Yemen’s infrastructure has been destroyed, with cholera alone killing more than 2,100 people according to UN figures.
UNICEF estimates that every 10 minutes a child in Yemen dies from preventable diseases because the water and sanitation systems and the country’s health system have been devastated.