A Houthi fighter keeps watch during a celebration marking the birthday of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in Sanaa, Yemen, on Thursday. Fighting broke out between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital city. Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE
Nov. 30 (UPI) -- At least 15 died when clashes broke out in Sanaa between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, two groups allied in their fight against the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
The fighting erupted Wednesday when Houthi guards at the Saleh Mosque were stopped from putting surveillance cameras in the minarets, sources told al-Arabiya. There also was fighting between Saleh's Republican Guard forces and Houthis when the militants attempt to break into the home of the former president's brother, Brig. Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh.
Saleh and his General People's Congress Party called on his supporters to take up arms against the Houthis throughout the region the alliance holds, which includes much of the northwest of the country. Saleh accused the Houthis of starting the fighting and of launching a coup.
Al-Arabiya reported the Houthi militants used rocket launchers and hand grenades inside the mosque. Sources said the Republican Guards seized control over al-Sabaeen Square, which Houthis were occupying to take part in a celebration marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
Houthi rebels, who represent the country's Zaidi Shiite Muslim minority, fought against the Saleh government periodically from 2004 until his ouster in 2012. With a common enemy in new President Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the Houthis and Saleh's supporters joined forces and the conflict exploded in 2014 and 2015. The rebels forced Hadi to flee the capital to the port city of Aden in February 2015.
The rebel alliance formed a joint government in November 2016, the National Salvation Government.
A coalition of eight Arab countries -- mostly Sunni Muslims -- led by Saudi Arabia took up the fight to restore Hadi to power in March 2015. The United States, Britain and France also support the coalition. The Hadi government controls much of eastern Yemen as well as the southern coast, including the second-largest city of Aden.
The fighting has led to a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where civilians are facing famine and disease. A Saudi blockade on rebel-held ports in Yemen earlier this month meant civilians already lacking food and medicine found supplies even more scarce. Saudi Arabia reopened some ports last week, but humanitarian organizations said it wasn't enough.
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday held talks with Saudi King Salman and called on his government to allow all commercial supplies to enter Yemen.
"They agreed that steps needed to be taken as a matter of urgency to address this and that they would take forward more detailed discussions on how this could be achieved," a statement from the prime minister's office said.
The Saudi-led coalition closed all airports and seaports earlier in November after a thwarted Houthi ballistic missile attack on Riyadh led to suspicion that Houthis were smuggling arms into Yemen. Saudi media reported Thursday that the country's air defenses shot down another Houthi-fired missile. Houthi media said the missile hit a Saudi military target.
"At least 14.8 million are without basic healthcare and an outbreak of cholera has resulted in more than 900,000 suspected cases," WHO said earlier this month. "Some 17 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from and 7 million are totally dependent on food assistance. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children."
The organization said a diphtheria epidemic is spreading through the country with 120 confirmed cases and 14 deaths in the past several weeks.
Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. Yemen Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, said northern Yemen has a three-week supply of vaccines, a 20-day supply of fuel and a 10-day supply of gasoline.
The British humanitarian charity Oxfam International warned in September that Yemen's cholera outbreak could infect more than 1 million people by the end of the year. It cited WHO statistics indicating more than 745,000 suspected cases and more than 2,000 deaths in the country.