Last updated: 21 September, 2011

Gulf mediator leaves Yemen empty-handed as battles rage

A Gulf mediator attempting to broker a peaceful transfer of power in Yemen left empty-handed on Wednesday after rival army units trampled a truce and clashed bitterly in Sanaa for a fourth straight day.

The Gulf Cooperation Council chief left the Yemeni capital saying the country’s political rivals are not yet ready to reach an agreement, state news agency Saba said, as the death toll from four days of violence spiralled to 85.

“GCC Secretary General Abullatif al-Zayani and his accompanying convoy left Sanaa today,” Saba said.

Zayani left after meeting Wednesday with Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, who called on “all Yemenis to respect the GCC’s efforts and what Zayani specifically is doing,” it added.

He “affirmed that when conditions are more favourable then all sides will be ready to exert the efforts needed to overcome tension and achieve security and stability in Yemen,” the report said.

Hadi, who was authorised by President Ali Abdullah Saleh to negotiate a power transfer earlier this month under a GCC plan, also met UN Yemen envoy Jamal Benomar on Wednesday, Saba said.

Benomar told AFP he met also dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and opposition leaders, adding that he will remain in Yemen for further talks and to meet the southern separatists and the northern Shiite rebels hoping to “achieve a consensus” between all sides.

Benomar warned however of “the risk of civil war breaking out if no political agreement is reached.”

Benomar and Zayani both arrived in Yemen on Monday hoping to finalise the so-called Gulf Initiative, proposed last spring, which calls on Saleh to step down and hand over all constitutional authorities to Hadi. In return, Saleh and his family would be granted immunity from prosecution.

The failure of diplomatic efforts was accompanied by soaring tensions on the ground.

Nine people were killed and 32 wounded in clashes in crossfire during clashes between rival military units that rocked Yemen’s capital for a fourth straight day Wednesday, spokesman of Ahmar’s First Armoured Brigade Askar Zuail said.

He accused Saleh’s forces of “violating the truce” declared late Tuesday and “attacking civilians across the capital, protesters in Change Square and posts held by the First Armoured Brigade,” in a statement he read at the square.

The violence came as tens of thousands of protesters flooded Sittin Road in Sanaa for the funerals of 30 of the 76 people killed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday — the bloodiest days since anti-regime protests erupted in January.

Witnesses said the rival forces traded artillery rounds and bursts of automatic gunfire Wednesday morning in Eshrin street, opposite to Hadi’s residence, and the nearby Hael street.

The gunfire gained intensity after it began sporadically, while shells smashed into buildings where snipers had taken up positions, according to the witnesses.

“Nobody can help the victims due to the intensity of the fighting,” a resident there told AFP, adding that only soldiers and armed men were to be seen on the streets.

Residents remained holed up in their homes while businesses and banks in the neighbourhood were shut, witnesses said.

The clashes later spread towards Kentucky crossroad near the office of Saleh’s son Ahmed, where much of the fighting in the past three days has been focused.

Witnesses said several explosions rocked the area, without giving further details.

A military official from the First Armoured Brigade, commanded by Ahmar said the shelling had targeted the brigade’s headquarters near Change Square.

The northern part of the square was also shelled, the official said.

At least 85 people, mostly unarmed protesters, have been killed and hundreds wounded in Yemen since Sunday in clashes between the dissident troops and those loyal to Saleh, during which security forces also used live fire to disperse crowds.

Most of the casualties have occurred when Saleh’s forces fired on tens of thousands of protesters as they moved from Change Square, where they have been camped since February, further into the heart of the capital, according to witnesses and medics.

It was not immediately clear what sparked Wednesday’s resumption of hostilities following a lull after Hadi declared the truce Tuesday night.

But Yemen’s interior ministry on Wednesday accused Ahmar’s troops of “violating the ceasefire,” in a statement on Yemen’s state television.

Further south in Yemen’s second-largest city Taez, security forces and snipers on rooftops opened fire Wednesday on a demonstration of tens of thousands in the city centre using heavy machine-guns, witnesses said.

Since Sunday, at least five protesters have been killed in Taez, according to medics.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978, has been recovering in Saudi Arabia after a June 3 explosion at his presidential compound.