Shiite rebels, Yemen's president reach deal to end standoff

Shiite rebels, Yemen's president reach deal to end standoff


Yemen's embattled president has reached an agreement with Shiite rebels to end a violent standoff in the capital, Yemen's spokesman in Washington, D.C., confirmed. 

"#Breaking @HadiPresident & #Houthi reached a 10-point agreement to resolve the crisis in #Yemen,"  Mohammed Albasha tweeted Wednesday afternoon. 

SABA, Yemen's state news agency, said the agreement called for the armed Houthi rebels to pull out from around President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's home and the presidential palace, which they besieged Tuesday. SABA said the deal also calls for them to release a top aide to Hadi they had kidnapped in recent days.

SABA said the agreement also included a clause that would answer the rebels' demands to amend the constitution and expand their representation in the parliament and in state institutions.

Yemeni officials disputed reports earlier Wednesday that Hadi was being held captive in his home after Shiite Houthi forces shelled the residence Tuesday. 

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Hadi "cannot leave his house" after Houthi rebels removed his guards and deployed their own fighters there Wednesday in the capital of Sana’a, one aide told The Associated Press.

But a Yemeni official told Fox News that the Houthi rebels were standing “side to side” with the president’s own corps of guards, and were “protecting him,” not menacing him.

“He is not detained,” the source said of Hadi. “If he needs to attend meetings in the palace or the presidential areas, he can move freely.”

The official also said Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, who is reported to have fled his house for a “safe place,” also remains in his post.

“No one has called for the Cabinet or the state to dissolve,” a senior Yemeni official told Fox News earlier Wednesday. “We are working out a political resolution and expect a breakthrough soon -- maybe tonight or tomorrow. We are not headed toward armed conflict, as we might have been two days ago.”

The increasingly weakened leadership and power vacuum are setting the stage for Al Qaeda in Yemen, which claimed the recent attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and failed assaults on the U.S. homeland, to grow more powerful in the chaos. Houthis began a blitz in September, seizing the capital and state institutions.

The Houthis are a political and religious movement who are followers of the Shiite sect of Zaydism, who make up a third of Yemen's population of 25 million people and live mainly in the north. Sunnis live mostly in the country's south and make up two thirds of the population.

While all Houthis are Zaydis, not all Zaydis are Houthis and many are opponents to the group and its expansionist aspirations.

Saleh is a Zaydi, while Hadi is a Sunni from southern Yemen.

An aide Wednesday described the country being at the "point of no return."

The two aides spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because they weren't authorized to speak to journalists.

The advisers said Wednesday that Houthis issued a list of demands to Hadi, asking for the post of vice president and several key government offices, during a meeting Tuesday with Hadi's advisers.

But the Yemeni officials that spoke to Fox News said the demands do not include the choice of the country’s vice president, but rather four core demands in line with the Peace and Political Participation Agreement that the state and the rebels finalized back in September.

Those demands include reform of the National Authority, the body responsible for the drafting of the country’s constitution; the right to make changes to the constitution; a swift resolution to tensions in Yemen’s eastern, oil-producing provinces; and full political participation in government agencies.

The Houthi rebel leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, warned Hadi on Tuesday that if he stalls in implementing a key U.N.-brokered deal -- which effectively grants them bigger representation-- "all options are open."

Al-Houthi demanded shakeup of a commission tasked with writing a draft constitution to ensure bigger representation for his group. The draft has proposed a federation of six regions, something the Houthis reject.

The collapse of Hadi's powers is rooted in Yemen's fractured armed forces, torn between Hadi and his predecessor, deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Saleh -- removed from power after 2011 uprising-- is accused by many as orchestrating Houthis' seizure of Sana’a and speeding Hadi's failure. Critics also say the Houthis have the backing of regional Shiite power Iran, a charge they deny.

Capitalizing on the chaos, Saleh made a rare public statement Wednesday, urging Hadi to call for early presidential and parliamentary elections. Saleh also called for the cancellation of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed on him and two Houthi leaders last year for "spoiling" the transition.

Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution in 2012 in return for relinquishing power in a deal brokered by Arab Gulf countries and backed by the West.

Arab countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council met Wednesday and condemned the Houthi takeover, calling it a "terrorist act" and a "coup against legitimacy." The council demanded the rebels withdraw from the presidential palace.

The chaos in Sana’a prompted the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to condemn the violence and call for a lasting cease-fire. In a statement approved by all 15 members, the Council asserted that Hadi "is the legitimate authority" in Yemen.

Houthi rebels captured a military base Wednesday that houses ballistic missiles near Sanaa. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to talk to journalists, said soldiers offered no resistance.

Elsewhere, authorities in Aden, the regional capital of southern Yemen, closed the airport there to protest to what local authorities described as Houthi "coup" against "national sovereignty." Local authorities also closed the port, a major hub in the Gulf of Aden.

Fox News’ James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.