Aug. 12 (UPI) — Yemeni separatists have captured the strategically important southern port city of Aden following days of fighting against government-loyal forces.
The city’s military compounds, the presidential palace, port and airport were seized Saturday by the United Arab Emirates-backed Southern Transitional Council, the council’s spokesman told CNN.
“We are not inside the presidential compound, which is on an island, but we have secured its entrances and exits,” said STC spokesman Nizar Haitham.
Fighting over the city began last Thursday, resulting in at least 40 people killed and 260 injured, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Our main concern right now is to dispatch medical teams to rescue the injured,” said Lise Grande, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Yemen. “We are also very worried by reports that civilians trapped in their homes are running out of food and water.”
She said it was “heart-breaking” that families were in mourning during the Arab holiday of Eid al-Adha, which began Sunday.
“Families need to be able to move freely and safely to secure the things they need to survive,” she said. “We are asking authorities to guarantee unimpeded access for humanitarian organizations so that we can reach people with assistance.”
Meanwhile, with the STC in control of the city, both sides have since agreed to a cease-fire.
The STC said in a statement that the Arab Coalition had made the request.
“The spokesman for the Southern Transitional Council Nizar Haitham confirmed the Transitional Council positive response to the statement of the leadership of the Arab Coalition, expressing its full commitment to the cease-fire,” the STC said.
Both the southern separatists and the government loyal opposition are members of the Sunni Muslim coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE fighting against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. However, while the government loyal forces are fighting to reinstate the internationally recognized Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the separatists — who hold old grievances against the north — are seeking to gain independence for the southern part of the country.
This infighting within the coalition threatens “to tip southern Yemen into a civil war within a civil war,” said the International Crisis Group.
This schism within the coalition reflects that while it may stand united against the same enemy, they are divided on crucial issues, such as the STC striving for the secession of the south, the Belgium-based transnational non-profit said.
“If tensions in Aden cannot be eased, the risk is high that they will spread to other parts of the south,” it said.
Fighting over the city began last week after loyalist forces shot at mourners at a funeral for those killed in recent attacks against the STC, said STC President Aidroos Qasim Al-Zubaidi, adding that the shooting was followed by a rolling out of loyalist tanks and heavy artillery.
“As the scene became clear, we had only two options: either self-defense or surrender and accepting the liquidation of our just cause before the liquidation of our souls, so then we made our decision that was guaranteed to us by heavenly and international laws to defend ourselves,” he said during his Eid speech Sunday.
The Yemen civil war began in 2015 between the Yemeni government and the Iranian-backed Houthi militants, resulting in turning the poorest nation in the Arab region into the world’s “largest humanitarian crisis” resulting in some 24.1 million people requiring some form of assistance or protection and 14.3 million people in acute need of help.