ADEN (Reuters) – Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Saturday he was ready for a “new page” in ties with the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen if it stopped attacks on his country, in a move that could pave the way to end nearly three years of war.
The apparent shift in position came as Saleh’s supporters battled Houthi fighters for a fourth day in the capital Sanaa, in fighting which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said has killed dozens of people and prompted calls to protect civilians.
The fighting was the most serious since the Houthis and Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) made common cause against the Saudi-led coalition which joined the Yemen war in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
The clashes between Saleh’s supporters and the Houthis underscore the complex situation in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, where a proxy war between the Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-backed Hadi has caused one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in recent times.
“I call upon the brothers in neighbouring states and the alliance to stop their aggression, lift the siege, open the airports and allow food aid and the saving of the wounded and we will turn a new page by virtue of our neighbourliness,” Saleh said in a televised speech.
“We will deal with them in a positive way and what happened to Yemen is enough,” he added.
Saleh, who was forced to step down by a 2011 mass uprising against his 33 years in office, said Yemen’s parliament, which is dominated by the GPC, was the only legitimate power in the country and was ready for talks with the coalition.
The Saudi-led coalition welcomed Saleh’s change of stance.
In a statement carried by the Saudi-owned Al-Hadath channel, the coalition said it was “confident of the will of the leaders and sons” of Saleh’s GPC party to return to Arab fold. Hadi, in a statement after a meeting with his advisors, also said he was ready to work with Saleh against the Houthis.
“The meeting calls for turning a new page with all the political sides … and to form a broad national coalition that will lay the foundations for a new era and unify everyone against the coup militia,” the statement said.
The coalition accuses non-Arab Iran of trying to expand its influence into Arab countries, including Yemen, which shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, by aligning themselves with the Houthis and Saleh.
The Houthis accused Saleh of betrayal, and vowed to keep up the fight against the Saudi-led coalition.