Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh officially broke with his Houthi militia allies, calling on his supporters to rise up against them across the country. Arab media is reporting that the former president's supporters have gained control of key government installations in the capital, including the defense ministry, the interior ministry and Sana'a Airport. In a televised interview, Salah also called for resuming relations with Saudi Arabia, if the Saudi-led coalition lifts its blockade of Yemeni ports and air facilities.
The former Yemeni president's break with the Houthis came after five days of bitter clashes around the capital, Sana'a, between his supporters and those of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia.
In a televised address, Saleh called for new relations with the Saudi-led coalition, which he and the Houthis have been battling for almost three years (since March 2015).
He says a new page must be opened in relations (with Saudi Arabia) and neighborly ties restored, putting an end to all (the animosity) that has taken place and that amicable relations can resume once there is a cease-fire (with the Saudi-led coalition) and their blockade of Yemeni ports and airports is lifted.
Saleh went on to denounce the Houthi militia, which he accuses of being responsible for the humanitarian disaster inside the country, and he insisted that the Yemeni people are standing up for themselves to get rid of them.
He says that the Yemeni people in Sana'a and in all the provinces have carried out an uprising against the aggression (of the Houthis) toward the nation in the three years after (President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi) Hadi fled the country, during which time salaries have not been paid, food, water and medicine have become scarce, insecurity has reigned, and children have been drafted to fight.
He told Yemenis all across the country that if they support him, "to defend the nation, the republic and the revolution."
For his part, Houthi leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi called on Saleh to end what he called "the sectarian strife" that he has instigated, and threatened to take action against his supporters militarily if he does not.
He says it is in the interest of the nation to put an end to the strife, and he is urging Saleh to be wise and to cooperate with all efforts to end the strife. Otherwise, he says that the government must impose security in tandem with the people, if the militias (supporting Saleh) don't put down their arms.
Rajah Badie, spokesman for the internationally recognized Yemeni government in exile in Riyadh, told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that his forces "call on all Yemenis to support the uprising (being led by Saleh)," and that the uprising "spells the end of Iranian meddling in the country."
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA that former president Saleh has a "strong political instinct" and that he made his move against the Houthis at a time when the situation on the ground is favorable.
Diab says the Saudi-coalition forces are not too far from the capital, and the Houthis have become widely despised due to shortages of food, water, medicine and money. He also points up that Saleh's move represents a turning point in the situation inside the country, in which the tables have been turned against the Houthis, and the situation has returned to the status-quo prior to Sept. 2014, when the Houthis seized chunks of the capital from former president Hadi.
Former president Saleh and the Yemeni military fought the Houthi rebels five times from 2005 to 2014, before becoming allies after the Saudi-led coalition took military action in March 2015 to restore President Hadi to power, who had been ousted and imprisoned by the Houthis.