Fighting continues in Aden as UN calls for dialogue
ADEN - Yemen's southern separatists took control of all government military camps in Aden on Saturday, officials said, after four days of clashes between nominal allies who have turned on each other, complicating U.N. efforts to end the four-year war.
The separatists also surrounded the all-but empty presidential palace of the internationally recognised government that is temporarily based in the port city, a government official and another local official said.
At least eight civilians were killed on Friday in fighting between the separatists and government forces, according to medical sources. Fighting resumed early on Saturday but has since abated, residents said.
The combatants are both part of the Saudi-led pro-government coalition that has been battling the Iran-aligned armed Huthi movement in Yemen since March 2015, indicating a rift within the alliance. The war has killed tens of thousands and pushed the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation to the brink of famine.
"It is all over, the (Southern Transitional Council) forces are in control of all the military camps," an official in President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government told Reuters.
He said the two sides had agreed the separatist forces would not try to seize the palace, located in the predominantly residential Crater district, while government forces would refrain from attacking them.
The separatists also took over the house of Interior Minister Ahmed al-Mayssari after he was evacuated from his residence with the help of coalition forces, government officials said. President Hadi is based in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
There was no immediate comment from the Western-backed, Sunni Muslim coalition led by Saudi Arabia that intervened in Yemen after the Huthis ousted Hadi's government from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
Alliance member the United Arab Emirates, which has armed and trained thousands of southern separatist fighters, earlier called for calm and for the two sides to focus on opposing the Huthis.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed called on UN special envoy Martin Griffiths, who is trying to de-escalate tensions across Yemen, "to deploy efforts and exert pressure" to that purpose.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said the battles had trapped civilians in their homes with dwindling supplies of food and water. The aid group said prolonged fighting in Aden, a gateway for commercial and aid supplies, could impact efforts to tackle the humanitarian crisis gripping the rest of the country.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the parties to end hostilities and engage in "inclusive dialogue".
The clashes began on Wednesday after the separatists accused an Islamist party allied to Hadi of complicity in a missile attack on a military parade in Aden, one of three separate attacks that targeted southern forces.
The Huthis claimed responsibility for the parade attack that killed a senior southern commander.
Despite their alliance, the separatists and Hadi's government have rival agendas for Yemen's future.
Analysts say the Huthis may have used the parade attack to test dynamics on the ground after the UAE in June scaled down its military presence in Yemen under pressure from Western allies to end the war and concerns about rising tensions with Iran in the Gulf.
The United Nations is trying to implement a stalled peace deal in the main port city of Hodeidah, further to the north, to pave the way for wider political negotiations to end the war.
The deal was reached in peace talks between the Huthis and Hadi's government in Sweden in December, the first talks in more than two years.
The Huthis have also stepped up cross-border missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia. On Saturday, the group said it launched a drone on the Saudi civilian Abha airport. Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV said air traffic at the airport was normal.
The Huthis control Sanaa, Hodeidah and other major urban centres while Hadi's government holds Aden and a string of western coastal towns.
The Yemen conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Huthis deny being puppets of Tehran and say their revolution is against corruption.