In a surprise move, Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, returned home Friday to that country's capital, Sanaa, after more than three months of medical care in Saudi Arabia.
Saleh left Yemen after injuries sustained when rebels attacked his presidential compound with heavy weaponry on June 3. He was said to have been severely burned over much of his body and wounded by shards of wood.
The rebel move was viewed as a possible turning point in the months-long conflict between government loyalists and anti-Saleh opponents, who sought the long-time strongman's ouster. By the time of the attempted assassination, the conflict had reached a stalemate. Many in the anti-Saleh camp hoped the president's exit would provide the needed spark to push calls for a power transfer to a head. But, sans Saleh, Yemen has remained in limbo.
Saleh's return—considered unlikely as recently as last week—has thrown a wrench in a recent Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) sponsored transition plan supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Arab leaders and those in the West were operating under the cautious assumption that the often mercurial Saleh intended to sign the agreement and hand over power. Saleh's re-emergence caught the parties off guard, and has left many perplexed as to what the action means for future leadership in Yemen.
The move also threatens to spiral the war-torn Gulf nation further into chaos. Since Saleh's return, an estimated 100 people have been killed, as the two sides battle for control of the Yemeni capital from the surrounding hills, according to The Associated Press. "We are on the verge of a very critical escalation," protest leader Abdel-Hadi al-Azizi said. This means "more divisions, more escalation and confrontations."
Another opposition leader, Abdullah Obal, told Al-Jazeera that Saleh's return could hurl the country into an "all-out civil war." "The cannons are now speaking. Gunfire is doing all the talking," he said.
So, while Saleh publicly calls for dialogue, more violence seems the only near-term certainty for Yemen.