The burial took place in the capital Sanaa where less than 10 of Saleh's relatives were allowed to attend, according to sources from the former Yemeni president's General People's Congress party.

A boy holds up a poster of Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, during a rally in his support in Sanaa, Yemen November 7, 2014.
A boy holds up a poster of Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, during a rally in his support in Sanaa, Yemen November 7, 2014. (Reuters)

Yemen's rebels, the Houthi group, buried former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, allowing only a handful of relatives to attend, sources from his General People's Congress (GPC) party said on Sunday.

Saleh, 75, was killed on December 4 by the Iran-aligned Houthis after he had called for a "new page" in ties with a Saudi-led coalition. His supporters together with the Houthis had fought against that very same coalition for nearly three years.

A GPC source, who has asked not to be identified, said the Houthis allowed less than 10 people from Saleh's relatives to attend the night-time burial in the capital Sanaa, but gave no details on the exact location.

GPC Secretary-General Aref al Zouka, who was killed with Saleh, was buried on Saturday in his native al Saeed district of Shabwa province in southern Yemen after the Houthis handed over his body to tribal leaders, media and GPC officials said.

Relatives said on Thursday that Saleh's family had refused conditions demanded by the Houthis for handing over the body. Some said they wanted to bury the body in the courtyard of a mosque he had built near the presidential compound in southern Sanaa.

Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years before being forced to step down in 2012 in a Gulf-brokered transition plan following months of Arab uprisings demanding democracy.

He remained in politics as the head of the GPC, Yemen's largest political party, and in 2015 he joined forces with the Iran-aligned Houthis after they captured the capital Sanaa in a move that precipitated Saudi-led military intervention on the side of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. 

What next for Yemen?

Saleh's murder is a setback for Riyadh, which had hoped the backing of Saleh – and his loyalist army units in northern Yemen - would help close a war that has killed 10,000 people and caused one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crises.

Saudi Arabia fears the Houthis will become as powerful a force in the Middle East as Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah.

The Houthis are holding their ground despite air strikes by Saudi Arabia and its allied forces and a naval blockade that has prevented food, medicine and fuel from arriving in Houthi-controlled northern areas, bringing the region to the brink of famine.

Last month, the Houthis fired a ballistic missile into Riyadh.

Brigadier Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the eldest son of Yemen's now slain former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and commander of the Republican Guards Forces, smiles as he attends a mass wedding for members of his force in Sanaa, Yemen. January 1, 2012.
Brigadier Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the eldest son of Yemen's now slain former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and commander of the Republican Guards Forces, smiles as he attends a mass wedding for members of his force in Sanaa, Yemen. January 1, 2012. (File Photo / Reuters)

Now, the Saudis are turning their hopes to Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali – and his good ties with Saudi ally United Arab Emirates – to do the job his father couldn’t.

Photos of Ahmed Ali, a military leader admired by thousands of soldiers in Houthi-run lands, appeared on the front page of UAE newspapers on Wednesday meeting the UAE’s de-facto leader Mohammed bin Zayed.

Saleh’s death caps a 40-year political career that charts Yemen’s tragic modern history. A country with few natural resources, awash in weapons and fractured along tribal and religious lines, Yemen has long been buffeted by its powerful neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Source: Reuters