UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Yemeni government forces on Wednesday seized Aden airport from southern separatists and attacked the eastern outskirts of the city, residents and officials said, renewing fighting that has deepened the rift between supposed partners in a Saudi-led coalition.
Saudi-backed government forces have recaptured most of the neighboring towns captured by the UAE-backed separatists before moving on to Aden, the interim government seat.
Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Iryani said on Wednesday that government forces had taken control of Aden airport from southern separatists, which residents also confirmed.
The Iranian-allied Houthi group has stepped up attacks on Saudi cities using missiles and drones, and said on Wednesday it had fired armed drones at “military targets” in the Jizan and Najran regions.
The separatists and the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are united under the umbrella of the Saudi-led coalition to fight the Houthi movement in Yemen.
But the UAE is at odds with the government, which includes Islah, seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Gulf state fights across the Middle East and North Africa. Islah denies being part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Neither the UAE government nor a coalition spokesman has so far responded to requests for comment.
The Western-backed Sunni alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to fight the Houthis allied with Iran after they overthrew Hadi from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The government moved to Aden.
– Retaliation against southerners –
Witnesses said they heard clashes in the neighborhoods of Arish and Khormaksar in Aden, as well as around the city’s airport, which has been controlled by UAE-backed forces since 2015.
Witnesses said both sides exchanged artillery fire across Aden, but southern separatists withdrew from some positions and checkpoints, enabling government forces to reach neighborhoods in the city center.
Government forces were seen securing areas around the presidential palace and central bank headquarters.
Prime Minister Moin Abdul Malik Saeed said in a statement that the return of the state to Aden is a victory for all Yemenis, calling for reforming the security services.
In a statement, Yemen’s Interior Minister Ahmed al-Maisari warned government forces against retaliation against southerners.
Government forces took control of Zanzibar, the capital of neighboring Abyan province, on Monday, after securing most of the oil-producing Shabwa province and its Balhaf liquefaction plant.
Separatists in the Southern Transitional Council, seeking to revive the Republic of South Yemen, which merged with the north in 1990, have occasionally clashed with government forces for years before renewed hostilities this month.
The separatists accuse the government of mismanagement and support for militants, which Hadi government officials deny.
Saudi Arabia has called a summit to end the conflict that has complicated UN efforts to end the war in Yemen. But Hadi’s government has said it will not participate until separatists give up positions they seized this month.
The standoff exposed the rift between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which in June reduced its presence in Yemen while continuing to support southern separatist fighters.
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