Yemen – importance of strategy
Yemeni security forces pounded the home of a tribal leader whose supporters are suspected of injuring top government officials, a flurry of shelling that left 10 people dead and 35 others wounded.
Government forces targeted the dwelling of Hamid al-Ahmar in the southern part of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on Friday, Fawzi Al-Jaradi told CNN on Saturday.
The attack on the same day fighting intensified in the capital, with government and tribal forces trading fire.
Shells hammered the mosque at the palace of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, killing an imam and several security guards and wounding Saleh and high-ranking senior officials — all of whom were observing Friday Muslim prayers.
Demonstrations have unfolded in Yemeni cities for months between supporters of Saleh and anti-government forces who want him out of office
One of those flashpoint towns is Taiz, where protesters retook an iconic square in the center of the city on Saturday after government forces cleared it out last week.
Eyewitnesses said security forces tried to disperse crowds of anti-government demonstrators by shooting at them and that at least two were injured.
Fears of all-out civil war have spiked since, as government forces and people alleged to be Hashed tribesmen fought in the capital since late last month.
The presidential palace attack illustrates the escalating violence. It left Saleh with a slight head injury and necessitated the transfer of some of the officials to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.
Those transferred include prime minister, Ali Mujawar; deputy prime ministers Rashad al-Alimi and Sadeq Amin Abu Rasand; Shura Council Chairman Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani; Parliament speaker Yahya Al-Raee; and Shura Council Chairman Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghan.
A Yemeni official who asked not to be named told CNN that Saleh was in the mosque when two “projectiles” were fired during Friday prayers. He confirmed the death of Sheikh Ali Mohsen al-Matari and four bodyguards. State-run news agency SABA, citing a source in Saleh’s office, said three guards and the sheikh were killed.
In a televised speech Friday night, the president said the attack occurred as talks were taking place between him and affiliates of Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the Hashed tribe whose break with Saleh has been followed by spiraling violence.
Eyewitnesses, residents and government officials say Hashed tribesmen carried out Friday’s attack on the presidential palace. But the spokesman for Sadeq al-Ahmar denied it.
“The Hashed tribesmen were not behind these attacks on the presidential palace and if they were, they would not deny it,” according to Abdulqawi al-Qaisi.
According to the independent International Crisis Group, tensions escalated May 23 when fighting erupted between military forces controlled by “Saleh’s son and nephews and fighters loyal to the pre-eminent sheikh of the powerful Hashed confederation, Sadeq al-Ahmar.”
In his speech, the president said those behind Friday’s attacks were not connected with the youth-led movement in Sanaa’s Change Square. Rather, he said that “gangsters” perpetrated the strike as part of their bid to overthrow his government and destroy Yemen’s economic achievements.
“I salute the armed forces everywhere and the courageous security forces who are keen on combating the attacks by a criminal gang that is acting outside of the law and is not affiliated with the youth’s revolution present in Change Square,” Saleh said.
Mohammed Qahtan, the spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties, Yemen’s largest opposition coalition, said that “the attack on the palace was pre-planned by President Saleh to make people forget about the attacks that he has committed over the last two weeks.”
Qahtan said Saleh’s forces have “bombarded most of the al-Ahmar family properties after the palace attack” and have killed hundreds over the past two weeks.
While Saleh has been unpopular among many inside his country, he has been a longtime ally of the United States in the war against terror.
The United States has counted on his government to be a bulwark against militants, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but it believes he should transfer power in order to maintain stability in the country.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said on Friday that John Brennan, the president’s homeland security adviser, traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for meetings with government officials to “discuss options to address the deteriorating situation” in Yemen.
Protesters upset over what they regard as political oppression and government corruption want Saleh step down. A deal to make that happen, fashioned by the regional Gulf Cooperation Council, has broken down.