RIYADH Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh was injured earlier this month by a bomb planted in a mosque within the presidential palace, but he is recovering and will return to Yemen soon, a source close to Saleh told Reuters.
Saleh's health and fate have been the subject of conflicting reports in the three weeks since the attack, which forced him to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh. The circumstances of the attack on June 3 had also been unclear.
"The bomb in the mosque was in close proximity to the president when it went off. He was really lucky to get out," said the source who was with Saleh during the attack.
Yemeni officials had earlier accused an opposition tribal coalition of shelling the palace, a charge it denied. The source declined to say who he thought had planted the bomb.
Saleh left behind a nearly failed state that has been rocked by months of protests against his three decades of rule. Some of his generals have defected while Yemen faces a rebellion in the north, separatist violence in the south and a resurgent wing of al Qaeda.
Less than 40 percent of Saleh's body was burnt, the source, said, referring to widely circulated details of Saleh's injuries. Some 39 other Yemenis, including the prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and the speakers of both parliamentary chambers, were also injured and taken for treatment to different hospitals across Saudi Arabia.
"After the bomb went off several rockets were fired in the direction of the mosque, but people from inside had already pulled the president out," added the source, who was also injured in the attack on his legs and chest.
The source said in Riyadh that Saleh's health had improved in hospital enough to allow him to travel to Yemen soon. "He wants to address the people of Yemen via the Yemeni television very soon," the source said.
Saleh's media secretary said in Sanaa on Sunday that Saleh would make a media appearance within 48 hours.
NOT IF, BUT WHEN?
Last week, a Western diplomat told Reuters that Saleh was unlikely to return home soon, as Saudi Arabia and the United States continue to push for a transfer of power under an existing Gulf Arab proposal for a transition in Yemen.
They fear the power vacuum and tribal warfare will be exploited by the local wing of al Qaeda to launch attacks in the Gulf region and beyond.
From his hospital bed, Saleh remained in close contact with events in Yemen and made regular phone calls. Upon his return, Saleh aimed to propose two solutions, the source said.
"The first is to shift all power to the parliament and become just a figurehead," said the source. "The second will be to let a coalition government to be formed and then hold early presidential elections and leave quietly."
Saleh has remained an unpredictable figure, with political instincts honed over decades of ruling a country that he described as "dancing on the heads of snakes." Saleh backed out of the Gulf-brokered power transfer deal three times at the last minute.
The proposal by Gulf Arab neighbours calls for Saleh to hand power over to his deputy, Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is acting president, as a step towards forming a new government and preparing for elections.
"The key is Saleh wants a peaceful transfer of power and that will not happen overnight, it takes time for a coalition government to be formed," said the source.
(Reporting by Amena Bakr; Editing by Reed Stevenson/David Stamp)