Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh Image Credit: AFP

Sana’a: Yemen’s Al Houthi rebels on Wednesday warned ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, their main ally in the country’s war, that he would “bear the consequences” after calling the Iran-backed rebels “militias”.

Fears are now mounting that violence could break out in Sana’a around a rally scheduled for Thursday to mark 35 years since the founding of Saleh’s General People’s Congress party.

Cracks began to surface this week in the alliance between rebel chief Abdul Malek Al Houthi and strongman Saleh, allied since 2014 against Yemen’s government, with the two exchanging mutual accusations of back-stabbing in televised speeches.

A statement released by the Al Houthis early Wednesday hit back at Saleh, calling the ex-president a “traitor” after he dismissed the group as a “militia” in a speech on Sunday.

“We have been stabbed in the back and called a militia, which is treason in its purest form,” read the statement.

“What he (Saleh) said crosses the red line... and he will have to bear the consequences of his words.”

Tension has been rising for days in the Yemeni capital, which is jointly controlled by Saleh and the Al Houthis, and eyewitnesses say armed supporters of Saleh and Al Houthi have intensified their presence across the city.

It seems the long-simmering power struggle between Yemen’s Iran-backed Al Houthi rebels and a former president has burst into the open, threatening to undermine their alliance against the internationally-recognised government and its Saudi-led backers.

Armed men suspected of links to the rebels on Sunday tore up poster portraits of Saleh and his son and one-time heir Ahmad in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital.

The vandalism took place in a part of the city where Saleh’s Popular Conference party is due to hold celebrations on Thursday marking the 35th anniversary of its founding. Adding to the tension, an unusually high number of armed men could be seen in Sana’a on Sunday, fueling fears that the two sides may clash on the streets of the capital.

Saleh has complained that the rebels, have sidelined him and his loyalists, leaving them out of military and political decisions, as well as UN-sponsored negotiations to end Yemen’s civil war.

Rebel leader Abdul Malik Al Houthi made thinly-veiled charges against Saleh and his loyalists late Saturday, saying his rebels have been “stabbed in the back while fighting the enemy in good faith.”

Without mentioning Saleh or forces loyal to him by name, he suggested that they were not fighting pro-government forces in earnest.

“Look who is on the front lines? Visit the graves (of fallen fighters) to see who is buried there and where they come from?” he said.

Yemen’s war, which pits the Saudi-backed government against the Saleh-Al Houthi alliance, has claimed thousands of lives since 2015 and pushed the country to the brink of famine.