Clashes between United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed groups and the Saudi-backed, internationally recognized government has intensified, with most of Aden now under control of anti-government forces, agencies reported. Some local media have claimed that President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was about to flee, surrendering his post to the separatists. Government officials fear that clashes will cripple the fight against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. UAE-backed groups are in favor of dividing the country in two, leaving much of the north to the Houthis, a move Saudi Arabia does not want. Saudi Arabia has been struggling to purge the rebels, let alone consenting to a Houthi state near its borders.
Despite the difficulty of verifying the numbers, it is claimed that dozens have been killed in clashes and Aden's streets have emptied as civilians are afraid to step outside. The state-run Saba news agency said the death toll was 16 while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said at least 36 were killed. Residents said forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC), formed last year to push for the revival of the formerly independent state of South Yemen, seized the last stronghold of Hadi's Presidential Protection Forces in the Dar Saad area of northern Aden, in battles that at times involved heavy artillery and tank fire. Activists shared photos on social media of the flag of the former independent Southern Yemen flying over the base's gate. Southern Yemen was united with Northern Yemen in 1990.
Aden residents said STC fighters had earlier overrun Presidential Protection Forces outposts in central Aden's Crater and Tawahi districts. They stopped outside al-Maasheeq palace, where Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr's cabinet is based, they said. Witnesses said hundreds of people danced and sang as they celebrated the STC victory with fireworks that lit the night skies over Aden. The crowd chanted slogans demanding the restoration of the southern state. Mosques also mixed their calls to prayer with victory celebrations for Crater, residents said," according to a Reuters report yesterday.
STC head Aydaroos al-Zubaydi made a public comment for the first time: "We have tasks alongside the Arab coalition and its Decisive Storm (operation). But the people of the South have the right to their own state when the international community is ready for that," but did not mention whether their ultimate goal is to establish a separate state in the south.
One of the main differences between the government led by Hadi and the separatists is that the former is allies with the Islah Party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the Islah Party declared in December that it had severed ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the UAE was in strong opposition to allying with the party since the UAE considers the Muslim Brotherhood a national security threat and a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia's position on the group is no different, yet Riyadh has been acting more pragmatically and is aware that the Islah Party is effective in Aden.