Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his Gulf backers have received information that ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is allied to the Houthi uprising, has fled the war-torn country.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemen Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin said: “We have received information from the ground that Saleh has fled via a Russian plane.”
“The Russian plane had earlier arrived in Sana’a from Cairo airport to evacuate diplomats and obtained permission from coalition warplanes to enter Yemeni airspace,” he added.
Yassin affirmed that the Russian plane departed the Yemeni capital more than 12 hours after landing, hinting that the delay was to allow Yemen’s former president to board.
Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is backing Yemen’s rebel Houthi group, which has taken over large swathes of Yemeni territory. Joint Houthi-Saleh forces remain in control of the capital Sana’a and parts of central and northern Yemen.
Pro-Hadi forces were able to push back rebel fighters in the southern port city of Aden after receiving an arms drop on Friday from the Saudi-led coalition that is targeting the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh.
Yassin called on a number of Yemeni political figures and ex-officials, presumed allies of Saleh, to back Yemen’s legitimate President Hadi.
“These figures are close to Ali Abdullah Saleh, and we hope that they stand with the Yemeni people, but we do not know the extent of their ties to Saleh. We, in the legitimate government of Yemen, are extending our hands to them in the hope that they come back to their senses,” Yassin told Asharq Al-Awsat.
He added: “They must publicly announce their abandonment of Saleh, and if they do not do this within the next few days, then they will regret it.”
The figures include Yemen’s former telecommunications minister Ahmed Bin Daghar, former foreign minister Dr. Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi, parliamentary speaker Yahya Al-Raiee and Ma’rib governor Arif Al-Zuka.
The balance of power on the ground has swung in favor of pro-Hadi forces following the launch of major air offensive Operation Decisive Storm by a coalition of Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia on March 26.
Yassin praised the arms drop and military intervention, but stopped short of calling for boots on the ground.
“The legitimate government of Yemen is today optimistic regarding the fighting around Aden, particularly after the pro-Hadi Popular Committees received military support and have been able to resist the Houthi advance there. The people of Aden have carried out a major effort in heroically stopping the rebel advance and we are in control of most territory there,” Yassin said.
“At the present time, we are not calling for a ground advance inside Yemen, but rather assistance for the Popular Committees in terms of arms, to allow them to defeat the rebellion against legitimate President Hadi.
“The Houthis are not capable of defeating Yemen’s tribes; they are running out of arms, while Saleh has begun to betray them. Therefore, what we need is arms to repel Houthi aggression,” he added.