SANAA, Mar 30, 2011- Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh tried last year to "get rid of" his rival, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who has now defected and emerged as a possible successor, a military source said on Wednesday.
The source close to the general told AFP, on condition of anonymity, that Yemeni artillery had fired barrages at posts in Malahiz held by soldiers under Ahmar's command during a battle with Shiite rebels in northern Yemen.
"It was obvious the president wanted to get rid of General Ahmar because he stood in the way of plans to hand over power to his son," Ahmad, who commands the elite Republican Guard, the official said.
He backed up a report in Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Monday, quoting a leaked US diplomatic cable, that Saleh had tried to eliminate Ahmar by misleading the Saudi air force into striking the general's headquarters.
"In the winter of 2010," Saudi fighter jets bombing Shiite rebellion targets in Yemen were directed to bomb a building that had been described as insurgent headquarters," it said.
But the mission was aborted at the last minute when pilots realised they were about to bomb Ahmar's headquarters.
The Norwegian daily, which announced last year it had obtained all 250,000 US diplomatic cables from whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, did not publish the cable's content directly on its website as it has done in the past.
Also, the paper did not give a date for the cable which gave details of a "secret" meeting between US diplomats and Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Khaled bin Sultan on February 6, 2010.
In a major blow to Saleh, Ahmar, commander of Yemen's northwest military region which covers Sanaa and of an armoured tank division, earlier this month sided with protesters calling for the president's ouster.
On Sunday, three days after the general held a meeting with the president that was termed a failure by both sides, Ahmar vowed to help bring about Saleh's overthrow.
Saleh has been faced with a popular uprising since the end of January, calling for an end to his 32-year rule. Fifty-two demonstrators were reported killed in a protest on March 18 alone.