Shia Houthi fighters have surrounded the main residence of Prime Minister Khalid Bahah in the capital Sanaa after Bahah escaped an attack on his convoy, further fueling accusations of a coup attempt, officials have said.
Bahah’s Republican Palace was surrounded on Monday, despite a second ceasefire reached by the two sides that followed unprecedented clashes in Sanaa, government spokesman Rajih Badi has said.
Bahah was inside the house at Tahrir Square, which he has resided in since he was appointed prime minister in October, as the armed group encircled it, Badi told the AFP news agency.
The heavily armed fighters were surrounding all three entrances to the residence in the city centre, Badi added.
The aggression towards the senior official came despite a truce, which was accepted during a meeting on Monday between a representative of the Houthis and Yemen’s defence and interior ministers.
The ceasefire was followed by battles on the streets between Yemeni army soldiers and Houthi fighters which began early on Monday near the presidential palace and quickly spread to other strategic areas in Sanaa.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Alhelbarra, who has reported extensively from Yemen, said reports of the second ceasefire should be treated with caution as there was a trust deficit between the Houthis and the government.
Hakim al-Masmari, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post newspaper, described Monday’s fighting in Sanaa as much more intense compared with what occurred when the Houthis took control of the city in September.
“This chaos is the first of its kind,” he told Al Jazeera.
Witnesses said heavy machine-gun fire could be heard as mortars fell around the presidential palace.
Civilians in the area fled as columns of black smoke rose over the palace. Medics said at least two people had been killed and 14 others wounded as ambulance sirens wailed throughout Sanaa.
“Third Party involved”
Nadia Sakkaf, Yemen’s information minister, said a Houthi convoy had also been attacked – suggesting that a “third party” was involved. She did not specify who attacked the convoys.
Earlier, Sakkaf said no single party was in control of Sanaa. She said many in the army were responding to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi but that there were “some in uniform that don’t obey their superior”.
Sakkaf denied reports that Hadi had left Sanaa, saying he was still in his residence, but added: “I’m very worried that al-Qaeda or other terror organisations will use the lack of order and target anybod.
“This story is developing so quickly. … We may have a new Yemen by the end of the day, maybe a new system altogether.”
Earlier on Monday, Sakkaf told state television that a ceasefire deal had been reached with the Houthis.
But after a brief lull in fighting, gun battles resumed.
In the inital stages of fighting, a military source in the presidential guard accused the Houthis of deploying fighters and setting up a checkpoint near the palace.
He said the Houthis refused to withdraw and opened fire on the soldiers, after which the army responded.
However, a Houthi official told Al Jazeera that the presidential security forces attacked the Houthi checkpoint, leading to the clashes around the palace area.
Sanaa has been tense for the past two days following the Houthis’ abduction of the president’s chief of staff.
A deal signed in September between political parties and the Houthis called for the formation of a new unity government followed by the withdrawal of Houthi fighters from Sanaa. The fighters have remained in place, however.
The Houthis, who have launched attacks on al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch, are viewed as Shia Iran’s ally in its regional struggle for influence with Saudi Arabia.
Source: Al Jazeera