Yemeni general vows to seize Sanaa from Houthis

Brig. Gen. Tareq Mohammed Saleh said Yemeni forces had gained the upper hand against the Houthis. (Screengrab)
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Updated 30 December 2019

Yemeni general vows to seize Sanaa from Houthis

  • Brig. Gen. Tareq Mohammed Saleh, a nephew of the former president, says he wants to free people from Houthi repression
  • Saleh said his forces had killed and injured as many as 700 Houthis

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A Yemeni army general who defected from the Houthis has vowed to keep fighting the Iran-backed militant group and push them from all Yemeni territories under their control, including the capital Sanaa.

Brig. Gen. Tareq Mohammed Saleh, a nephew of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and a military commander at the Joint Forces in Yemen’s Red Sea battlefield, said Saturday that his forces wanted to free people from repression and tyranny.

He said Yemeni forces had taken the offensive on the battlefield and managed to push back Houthi attacks with little help from the Saudi-led coalition.

“Our goal is one: Houthis. Our crystal clear goal is Sanaa, the capital of Yemen,” he said, addressing dozens of newly trained forces at a military base in Yemen’s Red Sea Mocha town. 

Saleh added that Yemeni forces had gained the upper hand in the battlefield in the port city of Hodeidah and had pushed back attempts to make territorial gains there and in Taiz.

“They say Houthis would come back to Aden if the warplanes stopped. We have been fighting here for a year and a half with no air, artillery or reconnaissance support. We are fighting them face to face with guns,” he told them.

Saleh was, until late 2017, the commander of his uncle’s special guards. Ali Abdullah Saleh switched sides in Dec. 2017 and led a military uprising against the Houthis, backing the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen. 

When the Houthis killed him a number of his military supporters, including his nephew, deserted Houthi-controlled areas and regrouped at a military base established with the help of the coalition. 

Using his uncle’s decades-long tribal, military and social connections, Saleh convinced many figures to defect and join his military brigades.

The Arab coalition brought together three major military divisions on the Red Sea under joint military command.

Saleh said his forces had killed and injured as many as 700 Houthis, as rebels sought to break government forces’ defenses in Hodeidah.

“They have suffered heavy defeats,” he said, urging his soldiers and supporters to keep their morale high and get ready for major battles. “We renew our call to all Yemenis to come together. They are our enemy and the enemy of all Yemenis. They caused curses and wars.”

Anti-Houthi forces have made major breakthroughs in the war by pushing deeply into Houthi-controlled areas in Hodeidah and Taiz since Saleh’s defection and, in June 2018, reached the outskirts of Hodeidah that host the country’s biggest seaport. 

The offensive pushed the Houthis into agreeing to withdraw from Hodeidah’s major seaports under a UN-brokered deal signed in Dec. 2018. 

The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen in March 2015 tilted the balance of the war in favor of forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, enabling loyalists to seize control of 80 percent of Yemen.


Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

Updated 11 August 2020

Lebanon family restless as it awaits missing ‘heroes’

  • Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast
  • The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors

QARTABA, Lebanon: Three firefighters. One Lebanese family. The same restless wait. Rita Hitti has not slept a wink since the Beirut port blast, when her firefighting son, nephew and son-in-law went missing.
“In one piece or several, we want our sons back,” she told AFP from the Hitti family’s home in the mountain town of Qartaba, north of Beirut.
“We have been waiting for the remains for six days,” she added, dark circles under her eyes.
Najib Hitti, 27, Charbel Hitti, 22 and Charbel Karam, 37, all relatives, left together in one firetruck to douse a port blaze believed to have sparked the August 4 mega-blast that killed 160 people and wounded at least 6,000 others across town.
They were among the first rescuers at the scene. They have not been heard of since.
Near the entrance to their Qartaba home, the three men are praised as “heroes” in a huge banner unfurled over a wall.
The double exposure shot shows them in the foreground dressed sharply in suits.
In the background, the blast’s now-infamous pink plume rises above their heads as they try to douse a fire.
An eerie calm filled the stone-arched living room, where dozens of relatives and neighbors gathered around Rita, the mother of Najib Hitti.
The women were mum, the men whispered between themselves, the young shuffled in and out of the room, quietly.
Karlen, Rita’s daughter, looked among the most sombre, with her husband Charbel Karam, brother Najib and cousin Charbel all missing.
Sitting next to her mother on the couch, she fought back tears and did not say a single word.
The Hittis’ hopes of seeing their loved ones alive have dimmed since the army on Sunday said it had concluded search and rescue operations with little to no hope of finding survivors.
The health ministry has said the number of missing stands at less than 20, while the army announced it had lifted five corpses from beneath the rubble.
A large blaze was still ripping through the blast site when the Hittis and other relatives of port employees dashed to the disaster zone to check on their loved ones.
But they were stopped by security forces.
“I told them I would know my boys from their smell,” Rita said she told an officer who barred her from the site.
“Let me enter to search for them and when I whiff their smell I will know where they are,” the mother said she pleaded.
Ever since, her hopes have gradually dwindled, but her anger is boiling.
Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation but the exact cause of the blast remains unclear.
Authorities say it was triggered by a fire of unknown origin that broke out in a port warehouse where a huge pile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been left unsecured for years.
Whatever the cause of the fire was, the popular consensus is that the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of officials in charge of the port as well those who have ruled Lebanon country for decades.
“We gave them heroes and they returned them to us as ‘martyrs’,” Rita said, scoffing at the label officials have used to brand blast casualties.
“What martyrs? What were they protecting? The noxious things (authorities) were hiding in the port?” she asked rhetorically.
“They are martyrs of treachery.”
George, father of Charbel Hitti, also rushed to the blast site to look for his son and relatives after the explosion.
“I started to scream their names: Najib, Charbel... I was like a mad man,” he told AFP.
“We waited until 6 in the morning the next day for clues to what happened,” he said.
“In the end, I started crying.”
He did manage, however, to get one piece of information from a port security official close to the family who was at the scene of the blaze when the firefighting team first arrived on August 4.
The security official had told him that the firefighters were trying to break open the door to the ammonium nitrate warehouse because they could not find the keys before the explosion ripped the whole place apart.
A week has since passed and George said hopes of finding the three men alive have faded.
Assuming they are dead, George said he now wants one thing: “We just want DNA test results that are compatible with those of Charbel, Najib and Charbel,” he said.
“Imagine. This is everything we now wish for.”