Yemeni fighters loyal to the Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi clashed with Iranian-allied Huthi fighters on Sunday in downtown Aden, the absent leader’s last major foothold in the country.
Hadi loyalists in the southern port city reported a gun battle in the central Crater district in which three people were killed, and said they recaptured the airport, which has changed hands several times in several days of fighting.
The Health Ministry, loyal to the Huthi fighters who control the capital, said Saudi-led air strikes had killed 35 people and wounded 88 overnight. The figures could not be independently confirmed.
Saudi Arabia has rallied Sunni Muslim Arab countries in an air campaign to support Mr. Hadi, who moved to Aden in February and is now in Riyadh after leaving Yemen in the past week.
The fighting has brought civil war to a country that was already sliding into chaos and which had been a battlefield for the secret U.S. drone war against al-Qaeda. In the northern city of Saada, a Huthi stronghold near the Saudi border, strikes hit Huthi military bases belonging to the militia and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who still controls most army units.
In comments addressed to Arab heads of state meeting in Egypt, Mr. Saleh appealed to the Saudi-led coalition on Saturday to stop “the aggression and return to the negotiations table”, saying Mr. Hadi had failed to run the country.
India will airlift its nationals from Yemen after getting permission from authorities to fly from San’a, said the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, a day after 80 Indians left the city for Djibouti. Ms. Swaraj also tweeted that India was in the process of sending a ship with a capacity of 1,500 passengers.
Yemen on the brink
Who are fighting whom?
- ›Houthis: The rebel group controls nine of 21 provinces now
- ›Saudi-led coalition: Here is some of those who are participating and what they are deploying: Saudi Arabia: 100 fighter jets, 150,000 soldiers and some naval units UAE: 30 fighter jets Bahrain: 15 fighter jets Kuwait: 15 fighter jets Qatar: 10 fighter jets Jordan: 6 fighter jets Sudan: 3 fighter jets Egypt: naval and air forces involved.
- ›Yemeni security forces: The military is now split as units that support Hadi, units that support the Houthis, and units that support a still-influential Saleh, who is in the Houthi camp for now
- ›Popular Resistance Committees: Militia loyal to Hadi in his stronghold of south Yemen.
- ›AQAP: Hadi and Houthis are fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has staged several attacks in the country and is strong in the south. Active since 2009. AQAP has taken advantage of the power struggle.
- ›IS: A new group of militants inspired by the Islamic State group has claimed major attacks, including suicide bombings which killed at least 142 people at Shia mosques in Sana’a.
- ›U.S.: CIA drones have continued to target top AQAP leaders, but the campaign has suffered from Hadi’s absence. Last week, U.S. military advisers were withdrawn from a southern base as al-Qaeda militants seized a nearby city.
Who are the Houthis?
The Houthis are followers of the Shia Zaidi sect, the faith of around a third of Yemen’s population. Officially known as Ansarallah (the partisans of God), the group began as a movement preaching tolerance and peace in the Zaidi stronghold of North Yemen in the early 1990s.
After some protests pitted it against the government, the group launched an insurgency in 2004 against the then ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh that lasted till 2010. Their opponents view them as a proxy of Shia Iran. The group is hostile to the United States but has also vowed to eradicate al-Qaeda. They participated in the 2011 Arab Spring inspired revolution in Yemen that replaced Saleh with Hadi.
Key dates to the Yemen conflict
- ›September 21, 2014: Houthi rebels seize government and military sites in Sana’a after several days of fighting that killed more than 270 people. Rival groups sign a U.N.-brokered peace deal stipulating a Houthi withdrawal from the capital and formation of a new government.
- ›October 9, 2014: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has declared war on the Houthis, claims an attack in Sana’a in which 47 are killed.
- ›October 14, 2014: The Houthis seize the Red Sea port of Hodeida, 230 km west of Sana’a, then move toward the centre without opposition from government forces but face fierce resistance from AQAP and its tribal allies.
- ›January 20, 2015: Houthis attack President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s residence and seize the presidential palace, and the President and Prime Minister resign two days later.
- ›February 6, 2015: The rebels announce they have dissolved Parliament and installed a presidential council to run the country. The United States and Gulf monarchies accuse Iran of backing the Houthis. In the south and southeast, authorities reject what they brand a coup attempt.
- ›February 21, 2015: Hadi flees south to Aden after escaping from weeks under house arrest and urges the international community to “reject the coup,” rescinding his resignation and subsequently declaring Aden the temporary capital.
- ›March 19, 2015: Clashes in which at least 11 are killed force the closure of the international airport in Aden and Hadi is moved to a more secure location after an air raid on the presidential palace there.
- ›March 22, 2015: The Houthis advance southwards, seizing the airport and a nearby military base in Taez, north of Aden and a strategic entry point to Hadi’s stronghold. Houthi leader Abdelmalek al-Houthi says the rebels have moved south to combat Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
- ›March 25, 2015: Hadi is again moved as rebel forces bear down on Aden, capturing a major airbase nearby just days after U.S. military personnel were evacuated from it.