SANAA (Reuters) - Yemenis held a mass rally in Sanaa on Tuesday to show support for the Houthi movement on the fourth anniversary of a war that has killed thousands of people and pushed the country to the brink of starvation.
The Iran-aligned Houthis have controlled the capital Sanaa and Yemen’s largest populated areas since 2014 when they ousted the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The United Nations is pushing ahead with tough talks with the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government to find a political solution to the conflict.
Men, women and children marched waving the red, white and black national colours, and chanted slogans against Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition against the Houthis, and the United States which backs it.
They also blamed U.S. ally Israel for destroying the country.
Massive speakers played “America and Israel, death and mutilation to you” and “five or fifty years, we will face the criminal coalition”.
Reuters witnesses said a crowd of tens of thousands of people, including supporters of the Houthis’ Ansarullah group, had gathered in Sabeen square in central Sanaa since the early hours of Tuesday morning.
“This is a message to the world, that at the start of the fifth year (of the war), Yemenis will be stronger... a message that the Yemeni resistance will be even greater,” said Mohammed Haidarah, a protester.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed Saudi Arabia and its allies for rejecting peace.
The coalition accuses Iran of supplying the Houthis with arms, including drones and missiles. Iran and the Houthis deny the accusations.
“On the eve of the war’s shameful fifth year, a reminder that it’s not too late to stop the nightmare that this war has become,” Zarif said on Twitter.
Many people taking part in the rally painted their faces in the colours of the Yemeni flag and others danced holding assault rifles and traditional daggers as Houthi leaders cheered the crowd from the main podium.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, denounced the U.S. decision to recognise Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan Heights.
“It is a recognition from someone who does not own to someone who does not deserve,” he told the crowd.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the war pitting the Houthis against the Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in Yemen in 2015 to restore Hadi’s government to power.
The war has displaced over two million people and driven the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country to the verge of famine.
Both sides agreed at U.N.-sponsored talks in December to a truce and troop withdrawal from the port city of Hodeidah, which has become a focus of the war, and an exchange of prisoners.
The ceasefire has broadly held, although sporadic clashes continued as the United Nations struggled to implement the withdrawal of troops, a confidence-building measure meant to clear the way for a broader peace settlement after four years of war.
However, violence has escalated in other areas since the U.N. peace process started.
Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, editing by Ed Osmond