Senior members of Yemen’s exiled and Saudi-backed government have flown into Aden to prepare for the administration’s return, three months after being forced to flee by the Shia Houthis.
The visit by ministers and intelligence officials follows military setbacks for the supposedly Iran-backed Houthis at the hands of Sunni fighters, which may mark a turning point in the conflict that has killed more than 3,000 people. The port city of Aden has been a focus of fighting since the Houthis first laid siege to it in March, when it was home to the government which subsequently fled to Saudi Arabia.
“[The exiled President] Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi delegated this group to return to Aden to work to prepare the security situation and ensure stability ahead of a revival of the institutions of state in Aden,” an official said after the group arrived by helicopter at a military air base.
The delegation included the Ministers of the Interior and Transport, a former Interior Minister, the intelligence chief and the deputy head of the house of representatives.
Local fighters, backed by Saudi air strikes, have taken Yemen’s airport and main seaport from the northern militia group in the past two days, in fighting that killed dozens of people, according to medics.
By this afternoon, Saudi-backed militiamen of the “Popular Resistance” battled their way into the centre of the Crater district of Aden, the spokesman for anti-Houthi forces in the city said. “The Popular Resistance... entered the Maidan area in the heart of Crater and are in the process of clearing the streets of remaining Houthi elements,” Ali al-Ahmedi said, adding that dozens had been killed on both sides.
The Houthis seized the capital Sanaa in September and pushed into Yemen’s south and east in March and April in what they say is a revolution against a corrupt government and hardline Sunni militants.
In a statement on Houthi-controlled state media, the group said it was weathering the Aden offensive, which has been supported by air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition which seeks to return Mr Hadi to power. “Over 150 air strikes did not deter the advance of the army and popular committees in achieving victories against the elements of extremism, al-Qaeda terrorism, Hadi militias and Saudi mercenaries,” the news agency Saba quoted a pro-Houthi military official as saying. Houthi forces fired Katyusha rockets at the Aden oil refinery west of the city, detonating an oil tank and causing a huge blaze, witnesses and officials said.
Arab coalition ships and warplanes bombed trucks carrying Houthi reinforcements towards the city. Residents said they were starting to clear rubble and piles of rubbish in the districts won from Houthi fighters which were spared street battles for the first time in over three months.
The local fighters said they had put under siege the two main districts still under Houthi control, and that Arab coalition ships had shelled a main checkpoint outside the city. Arab countries, particularly the UAE, have shipped around 100 armoured vehicles to the war effort, they said.
Backed by Saudi-led air strikes, militia officials said they were also advancing toward one of Yemen’s most important air bases about 30 miles north of Aden.