Saleh, 65, and other Yemeni officials wounded in the attack were being treated Friday night at a military hospital, a government official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.
Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi said the president suffered “some scratches” that prevented him from making an advertised televised address. But the president’s failure to appear publicly after the attack prompted many in Yemen to question whether government officials were underplaying the severity of Saleh’s injuries.
The Associated Press, citing the official Yemeni news agency, reported Saturday that five top members of the Yemeni government, including the prime minister and a deputy prime minister, have been flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment after the attack. Reuters quoted al-Arabiya television as saying that Saleh was among those moved to Saudi Arabia, but Yemeni officials denied that report.
Yemeni television broadcast a phoned statement from Saleh on Friday night in which he called tribesmen who are battling government forces in the capital a “gang that has nothing to do with the youth revolution.”
The president, sounding haggard, vowed that the tribesmen would be “defeated.”
But even as he spoke, the conflict was intensifying in Taiz, a southern city that has been one epicenter of the uprising against Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years. It has also encroached on Hadda, a commercial and diplomatic district on Sanaa’s southern edge that includes a housing compound for U.S. officials.
White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan continued to meet with officials in the Persian Gulf on Friday in a bid to broker a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The United States has urged Saleh to step aside, and he has agreed several times — only to renege at the last minute. Now, the Obama administration appears increasingly powerless to stop the bloodletting in a country Washington sees as a key ally in the battle against al-Qaeda.
“The country is going down a very dark road in which we see more tribes and groups being sucked into this conflict,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University. “We’re going to continue to see more of an escalation.”
Friday’s developments marked a dramatic escalation in a conflict that has turned increasingly violent in recent days as diplomatic efforts to force Saleh’s resignation collapsed and once-loyal tribesmen took up arms against the government.
Seven guards were killed in the rocket attack on the mosque at the presidential palace, officials said. Several government officials and an imam were wounded in the blast, which struck as Saleh and his aides attended Friday prayers.