Conflict escalates after anti-government forces shell palace, injuring president
Five top members of the government were sent to Saudi Arabia for treatment of wounds they suffered in a rebel rocket attack on the presidential palace, the official government news agency reported Saturday. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was slightly injured.
Hisham Sharaf, minister of trade and industry, said he met with Saleh Friday night and that the president remained defiant in the face of escalating violence. Months of peaceful demonstrations to oust the regime have become a raging military conflict in the capital and elsewhere.
“He was in very high morale. The strike that doesn’t break you makes you stronger. The strike made him more adamant that he won’t handover the country until he is sure it will be safe and clear of militias,” Sharaf said. He said he spoke with Saleh at a military hospital Friday night where he was treated for minor wounds before returning to the presidential palace.
But a senior official in the president’s office said Saleh remains in the military hospital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Sufi declined to comment. He accused the United States of orchestrating the attack on Saleh, saying all signs pointed to American involvement “because of the precision and the timing.”
A military official said, however, investigators were trying to determine if there was a security breach in the palace guard.
Tribal and medical officials said, meanwhile, that 10 tribesmen were killed and 35 injured in overnight fighting in the Hassaba neighborhood, headquarters of opposition Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar. A tribal leader said street fighting lasted until dawn. Many of the compound’s buildings and surrounding houses have already been heavily damaged by days of bombardment.
Government and rebel forces exchanged rocket fire, damaging a contested police station. The rockets rained down on streets housing government buildings that had been taken over by tribesmen.
Since violence erupted in the city on May 23, residents have been hiding in basements as the two sides fight for control of government ministries and hammer one another in artillery duels and gunbattles, rattling neighborhoods and sending palls of smoke over the city.
Seven guards were killed in the rebel strike on the mosque in the presidential palace compound where Saleh and the other officials were at prayer. The news agency said the prime minister, a deputy prime minister, the president’s top security adviser, and the two heads of parliament were sent to Saudi Arabia by air in the early hours Saturday. The security officer reportedly was in serious condition.
As for Saleh’s injuries, Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi spoke of only “scratches to his face.” But there were indications the injuries may have been more severe. Saleh, in his late 60s, was taken to a Defense Ministry hospital, while officials promised repeatedly that he would soon appear in public. But by late Saturday morning, state television had aired only an audio message from the president, with an old still photo.
“If you are well, I am well,” Saleh said in the brief message, addressing Yemenis. He spoke in a labored voice, his breathing at times heavy. He blamed the rocket attack on “this armed gang of outlaws,” referring to the tribal fighters, and called on “all sons of the military around the country to confront” them.
The bold assault directly on the president is likely to heighten what has been an increasingly brutal fight between Saleh’s forces and the heavily armed tribesmen loyal to al-Ahmar.
The bloodshed comes as nearly four months of protests and international diplomacy have failed to oust Yemen’s leader of 33 years.
The White House called on all sides to stop the fighting, which has killed more than 160 people.
“Violence cannot resolve the issues that confront Yemen, and today’s events cannot be a justification for a new round of fighting,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, discussed the crisis in Yemen with officials in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during a three-day visit to the Gulf that ended Friday. He vowed to work with Yemen’s powerful neighbors to stop the violence.
Washington fears the chaos will undermine the Yemen government’s U.S.-backed campaign against al-Qaida’s branch in the country, which has attempted a number of attacks against the United States. Saleh has been a crucial U.S. ally in the anti-terror fight, but Washington is now trying to negotiate a stable exit for him.
Germany said Saturday it had ordered the immediate closure of its embassy in Yemen “because of current developments.”
“The embassy team that is still on the ground will leave the country as soon as it is possible and safe,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, protesters have been trying unsuccessfully since February to oust Saleh with a wave of peaceful protests that have brought out hundreds of thousands daily in Sanaa and other cities.
Now the crisis has transformed into a power struggle between two of Yemen’s most powerful families — Saleh’s, which dominates the security forces, and the al-Ahmar clan, which leads Yemen’s strongest tribal confederation, known as the Hashid. The confederation is grouped around 10 tribes across the north.
Al-Ahmar announced the Hashid’s support for the protest movement in March, and his fighters adhered to the movement’s nonviolence policy. But last week, Saleh’s forces moved against al-Ahmar’s fortress-like residence in Sanaa, and the tribe’s fighters rose up in fury.
Friday’s attack was the first time the tribesmen have directly targeted the president. At least three rockets hit in and around Saleh’s palace compound in Friday’s strike, one of them hitting the front of the mosque, where he and his officials were lined up in prayer, according to a presidential statement.
The al-Ahmars were once uneasy allies of Saleh, and their Hashid confederation was key to his hold on power. But Sadeq al-Ahmar and his nine brothers have grown increasingly resentful of Saleh’s policy of elevating his sons, nephews and other relatives to dominate regime positions, particularly in the security forces.
Their fight comes as Saleh’s forces continue to crack down on the tens of thousands of demonstrators still massing daily in a central square of Sanaa and in other cities.
Troops fired on protesters Friday in the city of Taiz, south of the capital, wounding two. A Defense Ministry statement said four soldiers were killed and 26 others injured in clashes there with gunmen it said were from the opposition and Islamist groups.
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- UK officials: Radical Islam behind London attack
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11