SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh appeared on TV Monday to deny there are any divisions between him and the Shiite Houthi rebels, his ally against the internationally recognized government in the country’s civil war.
But tensions have risen in recent weeks between the two factions, and Saleh’s strange appearance, in an interview that was abruptly cut off, was unlikely to dispel rumors he is under some form of house arrest.
“There is no crisis or differences whatsoever, but only in the imagination of those who want these decisions,” Saleh said in an interview with his Yemen Today TV network. He spoke slowly, appearing to choose his words carefully.
Arab media had earlier carried reports of his arrest, and in recent days security officials had said he appeared to be confined at one of his many residences.
Saleh said that there had been “fears or doubts” voiced by rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi that Saleh was plotting a coup against their joint government. He said that he sent his assurances to the Houthi leadership.
“We won’t stage a coup against Ansar Allah” he said, using another name for the Houthis. The interview was then cut off, with no explanation provided.
Shortly before Saleh’s appearance, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi spokesman, said that Saleh is “within an arm’s reach,” indicating he may be under the rebels’ control.
Saleh, who used to command the support of much of Yemen’s security apparatus, joined forces with the Houthis and helped them to seize Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014. Since then they have been at war with the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition. The fighting has killed more than 10,000 civilians, forced more than 3 million to flee, and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.
Saleh and the Houthis are unlikely allies. When Saleh was president he repeatedly went to war with the rebels in their northern heartland. In recent weeks, the Houthis have accused Saleh of trying to pull his forces from the front lines, while his supporters have complained about the Houthis monopolizing power.
Earlier Monday, Yemeni tribal sources said Hussein Hazib, a prominent member of Saleh’s party who served as education minister in the so-called National Salvation government set up with the rebels, fled from Sanaa to Marib, an area east of the capital controlled by government forces. The tribal sources spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.
The two sides clashed earlier this month after Saleh’s supporters held a large rally and the Houthis responded with a military parade of hundreds of pickup trucks. A top aide to Saleh, Khaled al-Radhi, was killed.