U.N. warns against ‘protracted’ conflict in Yemen

The Security Council affirmed its support to President Hadi and Yemen’s unity after the Houthis seized parts of Taez city

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The U.N. special envoy for Yemen has warned an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that events appear to be leading the Arab country “to the edge of civil war” and urged all parties to step back from the brink and resolve the conflict peacefully.

Jamal Benomar stressed repeatedly in a video briefing from Qatar that “peaceful dialogue is the only option we have.”

Benomar said “it would be an illusion” to think that Houthi Shiite rebels - who control the capital Sanaa, much of the north, and are moving further south backed by some members of Yemen’s armed forces - could succeed in taking control of the entire country. On Sunday, the Houthis seized Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city.

“It would be equally false,” Benomar said, to think that embattled President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled earlier this month to the southern city of Aden - the country’s economic hub - could assemble sufficient forces “to liberate the country from the Houthis.”

The warning came as the Security Council affirmed its support for President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the country’s unity.
“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 told the U.N. Security Council.

Benomar said the Shiite militia group, backed by military forces, was heading toward Lahaj and Aden in the south.

In the same time, he said members of a militia group loyal to Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, known as the Popular Committees, have control of state-run institutions in southern Yemen, warning that the country could be on the brink of a civil war.

Houthi fighters opposed to Yemen’s president seized parts of the country’s third largest city of Taez amid growing concern about a conflict diplomats say risks drawing in neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia and its main regional rival Iran.

Meanwhile, the leader of Yemen’s powerful Houthi movement vowed on Sunday to pursue Islamist militants behind suicide attacks anywhere and said the country was in danger of descending into Libya-style strife.

In a live televised speech, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said his decision to mobilize his fighters amid accelerating violence in recent days was aimed against Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for bombings that killed more than 130 in the capital Sanaa on Friday, and against al-Qaeda.

He also criticized the U.N. Security Council, saying it was led by countries that plotted “evil” against others.

U.S. officials said Washington had evacuated its remaining personnel from Yemen, including about 100 special operations forces, because of worsening security, marking a setback in U.S. efforts against a powerful al-Qaeda branch.

Conflict has been spreading across Yemen since last year when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa and removed Hadi from effective control of the state, angering Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, which regards the Shiite movement as a terrorist group.

The Houthis then advanced into Sunni Muslim areas, leading to clashes with local tribes and al Qaeda and energizing a southern separatist movement.

In Taez, located on a main road from the capital Sanaa to the country’s second city of Aden, residents said that Houthi militias took over the city’s military airport from local authorities late on Saturday.

The fighters also took control of a number of government buildings and a prison, they said.

The takeover of the airport happened without a struggle, but later eyewitnesses reported Houthi gunmen firing tear gas and shooting into the air to disperse protests by residents demonstrating against the presence of Houthi forces.

Eyewitnesses in the central province of Ibb described to Reuters seeing a column of dozens of tanks and military vehicles travelling from the Houthi-loyalist north on their way southward toward Taez, 150 kilometers northwest of Aden.

On Sunday, anti-aircraft guns opened fire at an unidentified plane flying over Hadi’s compound in Aden and appeared to force it away, witnesses said.

It was the third incident of its kind in four days, in which aircraft have flown over the compound, where Hadi is based, on one occasion dropping bombs without causing any casualties.

Aden’s governor Abdulaziz bin Habtoor has accused the Houthi movement of ordering the flights over Aden, an allegation the group, which controls much of the north, has yet to address.

The Houthis are allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who still has influence in the military despite having given up power in 2011 after mass protests against his rule. The Yemeni army has varied loyalties, with most units being controlled by the Houthis or Saleh, while some are loyal to Hadi.

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