Yemen’s Saleh calls for dialogue, threatens persons behind his assassination attempt

Abyan tribes fight al-Qaeda fighters

Split in Yemen over forming transitional presidential council

Gulf states reject Iranian Guardian Council chief Jannati’s “provocative” statements against Bahrain

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh called for "peaceful dialogue," saying that is the way to end the country's long-running political crisis, in an editorial published on Monday.

"We have never ceased to emphasize the necessity of a peaceful dialogue to find a solution to all these problems," Saleh wrote in an editorial that was published in Al-Thawra and other official newspapers.

"I again invite all the political forces to return to reason and respond favorably to the call to dialogue from Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi to end the crisis," Saleh wrote in the editorial, which was published a day after the anniversary of his accession to power in 1978.

Saleh also defended his rule, in particular citing "the realization of the unity of Yemen" in 1990, when the north and south were united.

Protesters in Taiz, Yemen's second-largest city which has been a flashpoint of demonstrations against Saleh's rule, on Sunday marked the anniversary of his rise to the presidency with a demonstration, waving black flags in mourning.

Saleh has since January faced protests calling for him to quit office, to which his security forces have responded with bloody attacks on demonstrators.

Some generals and military units have defected to the opposition and anti-regime tribesmen have battled military units loyal to Saleh in Sana’a, Taiz and elsewhere.

Saleh has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia since early June receiving treatment for wounds sustained in a blast at his palace.

He appeared on television on July 7 for the first time since the attack, heavily bandaged.

Three days later, he was shown on television receiving John Brennan, US President Barack Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser. He was in better shape than in his earlier appearance, although burns were still visible on his face.

Deputy Information Minister Abdo al-Janadi said on Saturday that Saleh will return home "soon."

Meanwhile, Yemeni forces backed by armed tribesmen launched an offensive to retake Zinjibar, capital of southern Abyan province, officials said on Sunday, after months of fighting with Islamist militants who seized the city.

Dozens have been killed and some 54,000 civilians have fled Abyan, which has descended into daily bloodshed as the army confronts militants the government says have ties to al Qaeda.

The region lies east of the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait, where some 3 million barrels of oil pass daily.

After weeks of pleas for support from a besieged military brigade near Zinjibar, the government sent the first reinforcements on Saturday, aiming to flush militants out of the seaside city.

"The head of the Defense Ministry sent reinforcements including tanks, rocket launchers and 500 extra soldiers," a local official said.

"These forces began attacking (the city) backed by heavy tank shelling and rocket attacks from naval ships in order to liberate the 25th Brigade just outside Zinjibar and under siege for over a month."

Residents said dozens were hurt on both sides in street fighting, after troops and tribesmen entered the city from the east.

A local official said three militant leaders were killed, including Nasser al-Maraji, whom he identified as a prominent local Islamist leader.

While unrest mounts in Abyan, mass protests demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh leave office have entered their sixth month, paralyzing several cities and pushing the country into political limbo.

On Sunday, troops loyal to Saleh opened fire to disperse a protest march in the Red Sea port city of Hudaida, residents said. A hospital official said about 50 people were injured.

Saleh is convalescing in the Saudi capital Riyadh after being injured by an attack on his presidential compound.

The United States and oil giant Saudi Arabia are keen to stem the chaos in Yemen, fearing the growing power vacuum gives extra room to al-Qaeda's regional wing. Both countries have been targets of failed al Qaeda attacks from Yemen.

Tribesmen who joined the offensive said they had sent about 450 men to Zinjibar. They had begun to plan attacks on the militants last week, saying the army had been ineffective.

The heavy offensive, which began late on Saturday, has caused dozens of casualties in Zinjibar, residents told Reuters by telephone, describing how army ambulances screeched through the city on Sunday, filled with dozens of wounded people.

In nearby Jaar, Islamist militants who seized the city in March sent gunmen to surround and occupy a government hospital, medics at the hospital told Reuters.

The militants were now using the hospital to treat their wounded fighters from Zinjibar, they said. Doctors and patients were permitted to leave the hospital, they said, as the militants brought their own medical team into the hospital.

A local official earlier told Reuters some 20 militants were killed and dozens on both sides were injured during the fighting. He said 35 militants had been killed since the offensive began, but only confirmed the death of two soldiers.

Medical workers in Zinjibar declined to give an estimate of soldiers' deaths, saying they were too overwhelmed with casualties entering the hospital.

Opposition groups accuse Saleh of letting his forces ease up in the south to stoke fears in the international community that only he stood in the way of a militant takeover.

Militants who seized Jaar in March and took Zinjibar in May had taken control of a football stadium outside Zinjibar in June, which the army had been using as a makeshift supply base.

Troops had been fighting militants around the soccer field since dawn, residents and a local official said, and armored vehicles shelling the area destroyed part of the stadium.

A coalition of protest groups in Yemen has announced the formation of a transitional presidential council it says will prepare to run the country when President Ali Abdullah Saleh is fully and finally toppled.

The council "is charged with leading the country during a transition period not to exceed nine months and with forming a government of technocrats," Tawakul Karman, one of the leaders of the protest movement against Saleh, said on Saturday.

Saleh, who has been in power since 1978, was wounded in a bomb attack on his palace in Sana’a on June 3, and was admitted to hospital in Saudi Arabia the following day.

Protesters have since January been calling for him to quit office.

The council will also announce a 501-member "national assembly" that will draft a new constitution, and seeks to "protect the unity of the country before it completely collapses", Karman said.

The council consists of 17 Yemeni figures of different political affiliation from both inside Yemen and abroad.

They include Ali Nasser Mohammed, the ex-president of formerly independent South Yemen; a former prime minister, Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas; and Abdullah al-Hakimi, an exiled long-time opponent of Saleh.

The new body highlights the gap between Yemen's protesters and Yemen's official opposition parties, who protesters say were late in joining the anti-government rallies inspired by those in Tunisia and Egypt.

Many protesters have criticized the parties for seeking to negotiate Saleh's exit instead of trying to bring down his entire government.

Abdo al-Janadi, a spokesman for Saleh's government who is also Yemen's deputy information minister, said the move "pours gas on the fire".

He said that Saleh is "the legal, democratically elected president, and an alternative will only come though elections, not through an illegal coup".

Opposition party officials declined to comment. Al-Janadi also said that Saleh, who is currently receiving treatment for blast wounds, will return home "soon" from Saudi Arabia.

"The president is in good health. He will return to Yemen soon, but is awaiting the decision of his doctors," he said without specifying a date.

Meanwhile, in Riyadh the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council Monday delivered a protest note to Iran’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia over an Iranian ayatollah’s remarks on Bahrain, a GCC statement said.

Abdullatif Zayani gave Ambassador Mohammad Rasuli a note of “official protest from the Gulf Cooperation Council, totally rejecting the provocative and false claims in the Friday sermon of … Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati against the kingdom of Bahrain,” the statement said.

The note also termed Jannati’s remarks “blatant and unacceptable interference” in Bahrain’s internal affairs, and called on Iranian officials and the government to “stop issuing false and inflammatory statements” about Bahrain, saying this could harm “good, neighborly relations.”

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said during a July 8 sermon in Tehran that “the number of the prisoners is increasing day by day. The academics and physicians are fired … what does Bahrain want?”

“Their motto is each person a vote. Why should they be killed? The reconciliation meeting is a misdirection ploy. These plans bear no fruit,” he said of a national dialogue in Bahrain.

The Shiite Muslim majority in the tiny Gulf kingdom is ruled by the Sunni Muslim Al-Khalifa dynasty. The Islamic Republic is mostly Shiite. “Bahrain should be conquered by Islam and Muslims, and a day should come when Bahrain is ruled by Islam,” Jannati said.

Manama, along with other Gulf states, has repeatedly accused Iran of interference in Bahrain in connection with Shiite-led pro-reform protests there that were crushed in a bloody March crackdown.

Iran slammed the crackdown on dissent in Bahrain and the intervention of Saudi-led Gulf troops in the country.