Ali Abdullah Saleh killed in Sanaa by Houthi militia

Yemen’s ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh has been killed in the capital, Sanaa, according to the radio station of the Houthi-controlled interior ministry.

Footage circulating on social media on Monday appeared to display a body resembling Saleh, with one video showing how armed militiamen used a blanket to move the corpse into the back of a pickup truck.

There has been no independent confirmation of Saleh’s death.

Saleh’s party earlier denied that their leader had been killed and said he was continuing to lead forces in their clashes against his former allies-turned-foes, the Houthi rebels, in Sanaa.

He has made no public appearances since the reports of his death surfaced.

Sources close to Saleh told Al Jazeera that the head of the former president’s security detail, Hussein al-Hamidi, was also killed, but did not provide further details.

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Overture to Saudi
The reports of Saleh’s death came two days after the former president expressed his openness to talks with a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels, in what the fighters called “a coup” against their fragile alliance.

His comments on Saturday came after days of deadly clashes between forces loyal to him and the Houthis rebels, signalling an end to their united front against the Saudi-led coalition.

Earlier on Monday, a Sanaa-based activist told Al Jazeera that the Houthi rebels had gained control of the majority of Sanaa from Saleh’s forces.

“Only small pockets remain,” Hussain Albukhaiti, who has close ties to the Iranian-backed Houthis, added.

Albukhaiti said that fighters had secured key areas south of the capital, including the “very strategic” Al-Mesbahi residential area, which is approximately 200 metres from Saleh’s home.

“The area around his home is completely surrounded and may be taken over by the Houthis within the next few hours,” he said.

‘Shock and awe’
Saleh ruled Yemen for more than three decades before being deposed in 2012. He remained, however, a key player in the years that followed and played a pivotal role in the country’s ongoing conflict.

The Houthis, who are believed to be backed by Iran, stormed Sanaa in September 2014. They seized control of the city and eventually led President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who succeeded Saleh in 2012, to flee to Saudi Arabia.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition intervened to reinstate Hadi’s government. Three months later, following Saudi-led coalition air raids on his home in Sanaa, Saleh officially announced for the first time the establishment of his alliance with the Houthis.

Hakim al-Masmari, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post, speaking to Al Jazeera from Sanaa described Saleh as “probably the most powerful person” in Yemen and said the reports of his death had left the country “in shock and awe”.

“You can not say this is the end of his political movement, but it’s a very big blow,” he said. “But this is far from over – Saleh was an icon in Yemen for millions and so his death will not go slowly or unanswered.”

The tactical alliance between Saleh and the Houthis had often appeared fragile, with both groups suspicious of each other’s ultimate motives and sharing little ideological ground.

“This will not bring Yemen any closer to an end in fighting,” said Masmari. “We can only be sure that the Houthis are now united under one leadership. Before there were two leaderships, two different agendas, two different ways how to win the war.”

The war in Yemen is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, killing at least 10,000 people and leading to widespread hunger and disease.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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Mareeg senior news editor since 2001 and he can be reached at news@mareeg.com