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Yemen ex-president Saleh labelled 'traitor' by Houthi allies

War of words sparked on Yemeni television after Houthis took offence at Ali Saleh branding them 'militias'
A protester holds a picture of Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the son of Ali Abdullah Saleh (AFP)

Yemen's Houthi rebels on Wednesday warned former 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".

We have been stabbed in the back and called a militia, which is treason in its purest form

- Houthi statement

Fears are now mounting that violence could break out in Sanaa 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 Malik al-Huthi 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 Houthis early on 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."

Salah party's anniversary 

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

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

Meanwhile, at least 30 people were killed in an air strike that hit a hotel in Arhab, north of the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Wednesday, the Houthis said.

Yemen air attack destroys hotel, killing at least 30 people
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A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting the Iran-allied Houthis in Yemen, was not immediately available for comment.

Hussein al-Tawil, head of the Sanaa branch of Yemen's Red Crescent, said at least 35 people were killed in raids on the northern outskirts of Sanaa, as rescuers continued to pull bodies from the rubble. 

At least one strike targeted a housing accommodation unit where workers from a nearby qat farm were staying, according to witnesses and the unit manager, Taher al-Ahdal.