Sana- Yamen(ANN) — Five Yemeni officials have been transferred to Saudi Arabia for treatment after Friday’s shelling of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s palace, Yemen’s official news agency SABA reported Saturday.The officials are prime minister,
Ali Mujawar; deputy prime ministers Rashad al-Alimi and Sadeq Amin Abu Rasand; Shura Council Chairman Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani; Parliament speaker Yahya Al-Raee; and Shura Council Chairman Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghan.
The attack killed a Muslim preacher and several guards, and wounded Saleh, who suffered a slight head injury, according to the Yemeni government.
Hours after surviving the shelling of a mosque at his palace, Saleh said he was in good health and blamed “gangsters” for the attack.
Government spokesman Tareq al-Shami said seven people were injured. It was not clear whether that figure included Saleh.
A Yemeni official who asked not to be named told CNN that Saleh was in the mosque when two “projectiles” were fired during Friday prayers. He confirmed the death of Sheikh Ali Mohsen al-Matari and four bodyguards. SABA, citing a source in Saleh’s office, said three guards and the sheikh were killed.
In a televised speech Friday night, the president said the attack occurred as talks were taking place between him and affiliates of Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of the Hashed tribe whose break with Saleh has been followed by spiraling violence.
Protesters upset over what they regard as political oppression and government corruption have poured into the impoverished country’s streets for months to demand that Saleh step down. A deal to make that happen, brokered by the regional Gulf Cooperation Council,
recently broke down.
Fears of all-out civil war in Yemen have spiked since, as government forces and people alleged to be Hashed tribesmen fought in the capital. Their weapons have included missiles, according to witnesses.
Eyewitnesses, residents and government officials say Hashed tribesmen carried out Friday’s attack on the presidential palace. But the spokesman for Sadeq al-Ahmar denied it.
“The Hashed tribesmen were not behind these attacks on the presidential palace and if they were, they would not deny it,” according to Abdulqawi al-Qaisi.
In his speech, the president said those behind Friday’s attacks were not connected with the youth-led movement in Sanaa’s Change Square. Rather, he said that “gangsters” perpetrated the strike as part of their bid to overthrow his government and destroy Yemen’s economic achievements.
“I salute the armed forces everywhere and the courageous security forces who are keen on combating the attacks by a criminal gang that is acting outside of the law and is not affiliated with the youth’s revolution present in Change Square,” Saleh said.
Mohammed Qahtan, the spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties, Yemen’s largest opposition coalition, said that “the attack on the palace was pre-planned by President Saleh to make people forget about the attacks that he has committed over the last two weeks.”
Qahtan said Saleh’s forces have “bombarded most of the al-Ahmar family properties after the palace attack” and have killed hundreds over the past two weeks.
“He is the only one benefiting from the attack on the presidential palace,” Qahtan said. “He wants people to feel he is oppressed and is defending himself and not attacking others.”
The United States is monitoring what it describes as a “very fluid” situation in Yemen, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday. The White House also released a statement condemning “in the strongest terms the senseless acts of violence today in Yemen.”
Catherine Ashton, foreign policy chief of the European Union, called for an “immediate cease-fire” by all sides. She said that she had activated a mechanism to expedite the departure of European citizens from the Arab nation, all while pleading for a resumption of serious talks to end the crisis.
“I appeal to all sides to protect civilians,” Ashton said. “I have urged President Saleh repeatedly to listen to the demands of the Yemeni people and transfer power. The only answer to the current situation is an immediate and genuine commitment to a peaceful and orderly transition.”
Elsewhere Friday, government security forces and gunmen protecting protesters fought street battles in Taiz.
The security forces began shooting at protesters assembled in that city’s Freedom Square, and gunmen supporting the demonstrators burned an armored vehicle belonging to security forces.
Fighting has rippled across Yemen for months between supporters of Saleh and anti-government forces who want him out of office. According to the independent International Crisis Group, tensions escalated May 23 when fighting erupted between military forces controlled by “Saleh’s son and nephews and fighters loyal to the pre-eminent sheikh of the powerful Hashed confederation, Sadeq al-Ahmar.”
While Saleh has been unpopular among many inside his country, he has been a longtime ally of the United States in the war against terror.
The United States has counted on his government to be a bulwark against militants, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but it believes he should transfer power in order to maintain stability in the country.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said that John Brennan, the president’s homeland security adviser, traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for meetings with government officials to “discuss options to address the deteriorating situation” in Yemen.
From Mohammed Jamjoom and Hakim Almasmari, CNN