Yemen in Focus: War takes a new turn as Saudi, UAE allies pursue disparate agendas

Yemen in Focus: War takes a new turn as Saudi, UAE allies pursue disparate agendas
6 min read
09 August, 2019
This week we take a look at the killing of a senior Houthi family member, as well as deadly clashes in Yemen's temporary capital between supposedly allied factions.
Dozens have been killed in clashes across Aden [Getty]

Yemen watchers were kept busy this week with Friday peaking with the news of the death of a senior member of the Houthi family.

The rebel movement, which controls the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other major cities in the north of the country, announced the assassination of Ibrahim Badreddin al-Houthi, who was killed by "treacherous hands affiliated with the US-Saudi-Israeli aggression,” according to the rebels self-proclaimed interior ministry.

The movement, who have been fighting the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government forces since they overran the capital and forced the internationally recognised government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Aden in 2014, said "it would spare no effort to find" Ibrahim’s killers.

Ibrahim al-Houthi is the brother of the movement’s current leader, Abdel Malek al-Houthi. Their brother, Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi - founder of the movement - was killed by the former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2004 who himself was later killed by the rebels in 2017.

No further details were provided by the Houthis, however the killing of Ibrahim al-Houthi came after a prominent southern separatist leader was killed in a Houthi attack on a military graduate parade in Aden.

The death of one of Abu Dhabi's most senior henchmen, Abu Yamama al-Yaefi sent shockwaves across much of the south, triggering the most intense clashes in the temporary capital of Aden since the Houthi infiltration in the summer of 2015.

Deadliest clashes since 2015

Clashes between Saudi-backed government presidential protection forces and the UAE-backed Security Belt militia escalated in Aden after fighting broke out when shots were fired during a funeral for police personnel killed in the government-held port city last week.

Violence erupted in the central Crater area, where the Central Bank stands, and nearby Khormaksar, where a number of bases are situated, forcing residents to remain indoors for much of the week, with many unable to cross certain areas because of the clashes.

Heavy shelling, including use of tanks as well as heavy armour, shook both residential areas where thousands of people were at risk of danger.

While the death toll remains unclear, security officials confirmed members of the Emirati-backed force in Yemen were killed in clashes with pro-government fighters in the southern city of Aden.

Some reports put the total number of dead is at least 12, including three civilians.


In a statement carried by the official Saba news agency, the government on Thursday blamed the secessionist Southern Transitional Council for "the armed escalation... and its dire consequences, which threaten the security and safety of residents" and Aden's stability.

It called on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition backing the government against Houthi rebels, to "exert urgent and strong pressure on the Transitional Council to prevent any military manoeuvres in the city".

It also called for all armed forces to be incorporated into the state's security apparatus.

Tensions have often run high in Aden between the UAE-backed Security Belt and Saudi-backed forces supporting the Aden-based government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The fighting initially broke out close to the presidential palace in central Aden, where two attacks last Thursday against the Security Belt force and police killed 49 people and wounded 48.

One attack was carried out by a jihadist suicide bomber, while the other was claimed by the Houthi rebels.

'Coup attempt'

The latest developments came as UAE-backed southern separatists leader Hani bin Breik called on supporters to overthrow the Saudi-backed internationally-recognised Hadi government in Aden.

Bin Breik called on supporters to march toward the Maasheeq Palace in the southern coastal city, which has for years played as the temporary capital of the war-torn country.

"We announce a general mobilisation of all our southern forces to march toward the Maasheeq Palace," said Hani Ben Brek, deputy chairman of the Southern Transitional Council.

Bin Breik, one of the UAE's key allies in Yemen and reportedly a close aide of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, accused forces stationed at the presidential headquarters of attacking demonstrators loyal to the separatist movement during a funeral for victims of a recent attack.

On Tuesday, the separatist movement accused the Yemeni government and the Islamist Islah party of being involved in facilitating the Houthi offensive and declared a 'popular revolt' aimed at driving the internationally-recognised legitimate government out of southern cities.

This was soon exacerbated after forces from the presidential guard shot at mourners at a funeral procession for the victims of those killed in the attack on a camp for the UAE-backed security belt forces

"The attack was launched on our defenceless people who wanted a peaceful sit-in in front of Al-Yamamah palace, but were targeted by live fire from Islah's militias," he said.

UN warning

Meanwhile, the UN's human rights office on Tuesday accused southern Yemeni security forces of perpetrating discriminatory attacks against citizens from the country's north in retaliation for a series of attacks committed last week by extremists and rebels.

"We have received information from multiple sources about arbitrary arrests and detention, forced displacement, physical assaults and harassment," spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement.

The UAE-backed Security Belt forces are "reportedly carrying out and enabling retaliatory attacks against civilians" originating from northern Yemen, Shamdasani said.

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led military coalition backing the UN-recognised government against Houthi rebels in the country's conflict, however its forces in the south of the country have frequently clashed with Saudi-backed government forces.

Shamdasani said the alleged targeting of northerners is "apparent retaliation" for deadly attacks last week by extremists and the rebels.

The UN human rights office cited reports suggesting "security forces searched hotels and restaurants, stopping people, demanding their identification, and rounding up those hailing from the northern parts of Yemen".

"We are continuing to gather... details of the violations they have been subjected to, but initial reports suggest hundreds have already been displaced," said Shamdasani.

"Such arrests and forced displacements breach international human rights and humanitarian law," she added.

Yemen's Prime Minister Moeen Abdulmalik Saeed on Sunday decried "violations of citizens' rights", in a Twitter post warning of negative repercussions for Yemeni unity.

Yemen has been at war for more than four years. 

The Houthis control the capital Sanaa and most cities in northern, central and western regions, while the government maintains a makeshift capital in Aden. 

In the south, where UAE-backed secessionists claim independence, there is strong resentment of citizens from the north and reports of deportations targeting northern IDPs in the south.

Southern Yemen was an independent state until 1990 and the north is perceived to have imposed unification by force.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino 

Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.

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