Yemen’s exiled president ordered troops to advance on Sanaa hours after his predecessor was killed by Huthi rebels, officials said, as heavy fighting continued in the capital.
President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi called on Yemenis to unite against the Iran-backed insurgents who shot Ali Abdullah Saleh dead as he fled the city following the collapse of their alliance.
“Let’s join hands to end the control of these… criminal gangs and… open a new chapter to rid our beloved Yemen of this nightmare,” Hadi, leader of the internationally recognised government, said in a televised address on Monday from Saudi Arabia, where he lives in exile.
Saleh, who ruled Yemen for three decades, had joined forces with the Shiite Huthi rebels in 2014 when they took control of large parts of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.
But that alliance unravelled over the past week, with dozens reported dead in heavy clashes as the former leader reached out to the Saudi-led coalition that has waged devastating air strikes against the Huthis since September 2015.
Yemen’s war has left thousands dead, led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and deepened tensions between Middle East rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Hadi has ordered Vice President Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar to “activate military units and advance towards the capital,” a presidency official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.
Military and government sources said the army would advance on Sanaa from the east and northeast, with at least seven battalions ordered to move forward.
Saleh was forced to step down in 2012, after his forces waged a bloody crackdown on peaceful Arab Spring-inspired protests calling for his ouster.
The 75-year-old had survived civil war, rebellion in the north, an Al-Qaeda insurgency in the south and a June 2011 bomb attack on his palace that wounded him badly.
The Huthis announced Saleh’s death on the rebels’ Al- Masirah television station, declaring in a statement the “end of the crisis of militias” — referring to Saleh’s armed supporters, to whom the government have offered an amnesty.
There were reports of further clashes and coalition strikes against Huthi-controlled government buildings and around Sanaa airport on Monday evening.
The Saudi-led coalition warned the city’s residents to evacuate rebel-controlled areas, as international aid groups warned on Monday they were losing the ability to reach civilians in Sanaa.