ali abdullah saleh Image Credit: AFP

Al Mukalla: As Yemeni forces approach the outskirts of Sana’a, ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh has frantically called on local tribes to help reinforce the capital ahead of a planned offensive by the government.

On Friday, Yemen Today TV, a mouthpiece for Saleh, said that their leader had sent his deputy in the General People’s Congress party to Hamdan tribes on the edges of the capital in a desperate attempt to drum up support to fight forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The channel broadcast footage of a gathering of tens of tribal leaders vowing to fight Hadi’s forces.

Analysts linked Saleh’s mobilisation of allied tribes to the recent territorial gains of government forces and appointment of the powerful Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar as deputy chief commander of Yemen armed forces.

“By mobilising the tribes of Hamdan in particular, [the panic-stricken] Saleh is searching for a strong tribal equivalent to the tribes of Nehim and Arhab that opposed him,” Ali Al Fakih, the editor of Al Masdar daily told Gulf News on Sunday.

For the first time since the beginning of fighting against Iran-backed Al Houthis, government forces are now engaging in fierce battles with the militants almost 30km from Al Houthi-controlled Sana’a.

The militants have recently suffered heavy loses in Sana’a’s Nehim district as Hadi’s government is dispatching freshly trained fighters to the front lines.

On February 22, Hadi appointed Al Ahmar, a powerful army general who used to be a pillar of Saleh’s regime for three decades, as deputy chief commander of armed forces ostensibly to unite army troops and allied tribesmen.

Al Ahmar is known for having the strong backing of powerful tribes.

“The appointment of Ali Mohsen has thrown Saleh into a panic because of the man’s ability to change loyalties of [powerful] tribes surrounding the capital. Saleh also wanted to protect himself as he senses growing resentment among [allied] tribes that have been worn down fighting Saleh’s war in the south of the country.”

Tribes living in the suburbs of Sana’a, also known as the tribal belt, have long been credited for deciding the fate of the capital.

These tribes including Khawlan, Sanhan, Hamdan, Arhab, Nehim, Bani Hushish, Bani Matar and Al Hemateen.

“Despite belonging to the Zaydi sect, which is the same as Al Houthis, these tribes usually do not fight on religious grounds. They tend to lean towards their own interests,” Al Fakih said.

Separately, the Saudi Okaz daily reported on Sunday that General Mohammad Al Somali, the former commander of the 1st Military Region who had lived in Malaysia since the beginning of war against Al Houthis, has recently arrived in the Saudi capital and expressed his support to the internationally supported government of President Hadi.