Yemeni rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi on Sunday raised the prospect of his forces moving on President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi’s temporary capital of Aden after Houthi fighters advanced into the key central city of Taiz. Local officials said Houthi fighters captured several state facilities in Taiz, including the airport, airbase, prison and a court complex. The city lies between the capital, Sana’a, which the Houthis captured in September, and the southern port city of Aden.
In an angry televised address, al-Houthi warned that those behind Friday’s deadly attacks on mosques in Sana’a used by Houthi supporters must find no refuge anywhere in the country. Al-Houthi, whose supporters are drawn mainly from the north, said his forces have no intention of “targeting” southern Yemenis, many of whom support a secessionist movement seeking to re-establish the former Marxist republic of South Yemen.
“If there are any sensitivities in any area [about Houthi action], let them take action themselves,” the leader of the mainly Shiite Houthi movement said.
“It is not logical that al-Qaeda or Islamic State should be protected in any area.”
Those behind Friday’s bombings, which killed at least 140 people during weekly prayers, “are under the illusion that their horrible crimes could terrify people … and lead them to surrender,” al-Houthi said. Al-Houthi charged that a conspiracy headed by the United States and Israel was behind attacks in Yemen with funding provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Hadi was being used as a “dummy” by those outside powers, al-Houthi alleged, calling on Yemenis to join military camps or donate money to the fight. At an emergency meeting in New York, the United Nations Security Council condemned the continued Houthi takeover and expressed “deep concern” that the rebels had not complied with a resolution passed last month calling for the cessation of violence and a return to dialogue.
“The Security Council condemns the ongoing unilateral actions taken by the Houthis, which undermine the political transition process in Yemen, and jeopardize the security, stability, sovereignty and unity of Yemen,” the council’s statement said.
The statement also noted that the council was ready to “take further measures” in case of non-compliance. Jamal Benomar, UN envoy on Yemen, warned that the situation, already on the brink of civil war, could only be solved by political negotiations as neither side could successfully take control of the whole country.
“Any side that would want to push the country in either direction would be inviting a protracted conflict in the vein of an Iraq-Libya-Syria combined scenario,” Benomar said.
Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, Qatari ambassador to the UN, called on the council to enforce its resolutions even through military intervention in case of non-compliance.
Meanwhile, in Taiz, anti-Houthi activists who asked not to be named accused the rebels of opening fire on a demonstration against their presence in the city, killing one protester and injuring 10.
Taiz lies about 255 kilometres south of Sana’a on the main road to Aden, the former southern capital.
Hadi, a native of the south, is seeking to re-establish his rule from Aden after escaping house arrest at the hands of the Houthis in Sana’a. He has held meetings with officials and politicians, and militias loyal to him have expelled rival troops from a key Aden military base.
When the Houthis, who say they are seeking to root out corruption and extremism, seized control of Sana’a, most military units stood aside.
Observers suggested that former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in favour of Hadi after a popular uprising in 2011, was using his influence in the armed forces to facilitate the rebel advance.
Saleh and two Houthi military commanders were last year sanctioned by the UN for obstructing Yemen’s political transition. The Houthis’ rapid expansion has raised fears of sectarian civil strife as they meet increasing resistance in Sunni areas of central and eastern Yemen.
Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliate has carried out numerous attacks on the Houthis since they overran the capital – although it denied responsibility for Friday’s mosque bombings, which have been claimed by the Islamic State group. Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia, have viewed the Houthi expansion with concern because of the group’s relations with regional rival Iran. SAPA