Fayka Al Sayed, a leading figure in Saleh’s General People’s Party, was taken to hospital after Al Houthis violently dispersed a protest by Saleh’s supporters in Sana’a. Image Credit: Courtesy: Facebook

Al Mukalla: Iran-backed Al Houthis violently disbanded a protest organised by dozens of supporters of slain ousted president in the Yemeni capital on Wednesday. Residents said dozens of men and women gathered outside the house Ali Abdullah Saleh in Al Kumimi district, in the heart of the capital, to pay tribute to their leader on his birthday. Carrying arms and sticks, Al Houthis violently dispersed the gathering and detained a number of the protesters who were carrying flowers. Yemen Today TV, Saleh’s station, said Al Houthis beat the protesters with batons and fired live rounds, injuring some of the protesters, including Fayka Al Sayed, a leading figure in Saleh’s General People’s Party, who was taken to the hospital. Videos posted on social media show a number of terrified women covered in abaya running from Al Houthis’ policewomen and armed men.

In December, Al Houthis ruthlessly murdered Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s longest-serving president, after he led a brief military uprising in Sana’a. The militia have held his body, fearing a big turnout in his funeral that could turn into another uprising against their rule. On December 6, two days after Saleh’s death, Al Houthis dispersed a women-only protest, demanding the return of the body of their slain leader. Al Houthis seized power in late 2014, forcing Yemen’s internationally-recognised president into decamping to the port city of Aden where he urged neighbouring Gulf states to intervene militarily to blunt Al Houthi expansion across the country.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of allied countries, including the UAE, and began massive aerial bombardment against Al Houthi targets. Inside their territories, Al Houthis banned protests and aggressively suppressed many peaceful gatherings against their oppressive rule. Local and international right groups have repeatedly accused Al Houthis of torturing and forcibly disappearing dozens of activists and journalists who dared to oppose their takeover of power.

Meanwhile, on the ground, fighting raged on Tuesday and Wednesday between government forces and Al Houthis on the Red Sea front. Yemen’s Defence Ministry said fierce clashes erupted in an area east of government-controlled Hays town, south of the Red Sea Hodeida city. Several Al Houthis and loyalists were killed in the clashes.

Backed by massive air and military logistics support from the Saudi-led coalition, government forces have pushed to take control of Al Jarrahi, another strategic urban area in Hodeida province.

The current military operations in Hodeida are part of a big military offensive that began last year and is aimed at expelling Al Houthis from the country’s long coastline on the Red Sea. The final stage of the offensive would see the liberation of Hodeida city, the last major coastal city under Al Houthi control.