Yemen’s Houthi rebels capture key city
SANAA // Yemen’s third largest city of Taez fell into the hands of Shiite rebels on Sunday, a prelude to a possible assault on Aden, where president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi is based.
The Houthis also seized Taez international airport, just 180 kilometres north of Aden, and will likely use it to launch air strikes against the GCC-backed Mr Hadi.
The United Nations Security Council were expected to hold an emergency meeting on Sunday over the spiralling chaos in Yemen after Mr Hadi asked the group for an “urgent intervention”.
No political deal was reached after three months of UN sponsored negotiations as deep differences remain.
Late on Saturday night, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, met other Gulf leaders in Riyadh to discuss Yemen’s turmoil.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, Qatar’s prime minister, and Sheikh Mohammad Al Khalid Al Sabah, deputy prime minister of Kuwait, also attended the meeting.
The leaders reiterated their backing for Mr Hadi and “express[ed] their readiness to exert all efforts to support Yemen’s security and stability as an integral part of the GCC’s security”, according to UAE state news agency Wam.
Houthi-controlled aircraft flew over Mr Hadi’s compound in Aden twice on Sunday, prompting anti-aircraft guns to open fire. This has happened multiple times since Thursday when Houthi aircraft twice attacked Mr Hadi’s compound.
Strikes on Thursday forced Mr Hadi to evacuate the presidential complex and shelter in an unknown location, a senior Hadi aide said.
The Houthis have launched military aircrafts from Sanaa since Thursday after assigning 14 loyalists to high ranking positions in the air force, ensuring their complete control over it.
This comes after more than 150 Houthi supporters were killed in suicide attacks carried out on mosques during Friday prayers. The attacks were claimed by ISIL, but the claim has yet to be confirmed. Hundreds of others were injured.
In a speech on Sunday, Houthi leader Abdel-Malek Al Houthi vowed to pursue those behind the attacks.
“We are patient and want to give negotiations enough time to succeed, but we are now paying the price of negotiations and hundreds of our loyalists, politicians, religious leaders are being killed while we negotiate,” said Abdullah Abu Khalil, a Houthi military commander in Sanaa.
Al Qaeda denounced the mosque attack and denied links to it.
In his first televised speech since escaping a Houthi enforced house arrest in Sanaa in January, Mr Hadi on Saturday condemned the mosque attacks but called on Houthi militants to surrender their arms, leave Sanaa and evacuate from government ministries.
Speaking from Aden, Mr Hadi called the Houthi takeover of Sanaa “a coup” that was supported by Iran.
“The Iranian agenda with the Houthis in Yemen will not last and we will soon raise the Yemeni flag instead of the Iranian flag atop the Marran Mountains,” he said, referring to the Houthi’s stronghold in the northern Sadaa province.
The Houthis, who follow the Zaidi sect of Islam, took over Sanaa in January after attacking the presidential palace and ministerial cabinet forcing, both Mr Hadi and prime minister Khaled Bahah to resign.
A month later, Mr Hadi fled to Aden and withdrew his resignation. He called on all political factions to join the upcoming peace talks in Riyadh.
Mr Hadi also urged Yemen’s armed forces to refuse orders from the Houthis and pledge their loyalty to the Supreme Security Council — which he had created before reaching Aden.
Hours later, the Houthis declared war against forces loyal to Mr Hadi and are believed to be marching towards Aden.
Mohammed AbdulSalam, the official Houthi spokesperson accused Mr Hadi of backing Al Qaeda in his efforts to defeat them. “Hadi lied to the Yemeni people”, he said.
Hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda militants fled Al Mansoora central prison in Aden on Thursday during clashes. The Houthis accuse Mr Hadi of facilitating the militants’ escape. Officials in Aden say their escape was facilitated by forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s influential former president who has aligned himself with the Houthis.
On Friday, Al Qaeda took control of Houta, the capital of Lahj province, attacking a government compound and killing 30 soldiers, according to local security officials. An intelligence official said that Al Qaeda militants then freed dozens of Al Qaeda-linked fighters that were being held in the compound.
The Houthis’ success in Taez comes with the help of the special forces in the province who are still loyal to Mr Saleh. Hundreds of anti-Houthi activists started a sit-in at the special forces camp in protest against the arrival of Houthi militias in the city. But the rebels still entered the city and eventually dispersed most of the protesters on Sunday.
Forces loyal to Mr Hadi have seized control of six military compounds in southern provinces over the last week.
After US military forces evacuated the strategic Al Anad airbase on Saturday, just 40 minutes from Aden, Mr Hadi’s forces seized the base, preparing to use it to counter Houthi strikes on Aden.
Experts told The National that the US forces will not leave Yemen for good.
“A US submarine and a warship are stationed just 40 miles away from the airbase very close to where president Hadi is stationed and the evacuation of the airbase is just a relocation but they are still near Yemeni waters,” said Mansoor Al Sabahi, an Aden-based political analyst.
With the threat of civil war looming, efforts are being made to reach a deal before it is too late. But negotiators say their choices are now very limited.
“We are aware of options on the table. We know that drums of war are nearing, but we are still confident we can save Yemen. We can’t allow Yemen to fail and we need to reach a compromise soon. There is also a moral duty for the international community to reach the compromise through dialogue,” said Mohammed Abulahoum, president of Yemen’s independent Justice and Building party, in reference to the UN security council meeting.
“The Houthis are insisting president Hadi is part of the past. We are convincing them that Hadi must be part of the future if Yemen is to be saved,” he said.
Updated: March 22, 2015 04:00 AM