During an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Sunday, the UN special envoy for Yemen, Jamal Benomar, warned that the country is fast approaching “the edge of civil war” and urged all parties to redouble diplomatic efforts before it is too late.
Speaking to the council via videolink, Benomar said that unless immediate steps are taken to save stalled peace talks between Houthi rebels, who are Shiite and now control the capital of Sana’a and the ousted Sunni-dominated government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, which has taken up headquarters in the southern port city of Aden, the resulting situation could be similar or worse to the sectarian-violence and proxy-wars that have gripped other countries in the region.
“I urge all sides at this time of rising tensions and rhetoric to de-escalate and exercise maximum restraint, and refrain from provocation,” Benomar said.
With tensions and violence escalating each day, Benomar said that neither faction could realistically take control of the whole country, but that with militants associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State taking credit for a deadly series of bombings on Friday, he warned that if a negotiated settlement is not found soon or if one side is pushed too far in one direction or the other, it “would be inviting a protracted conflict in the vein of an Iraq, Syria, Libya combined scenario.”
According to the Associated Press:
Yemen’s turmoil and political crisis has deepened since the Houthis seized Sana’a in September and put Hadi under house arrest and eventually dissolved the country’s parliament. The country’s al-Qaeda branch, considered by the United States the terror network’s most dangerous offshoot, has stepped up attacks against the Shiite rebels.
The Houthis newly announced move to take the rest of the country follows the suicide bombings of a pair of mosques in Sana’a that killed 137 people which were claimed by the Islamic State group. It also followed clashes around Aden’s airport and planes from Sana’a dropping bombs on the city’s presidential palace which Benomar said fortunately did not injure Hadi, who is strongly supported by the security council.
“Following the suicide bombings and fighting,” Benomar warned, “emotions are running extremely high, and unless a solution can be found in the coming days the country will slide into further violent conflict and fragmentation.”
He said Yemenis believed the situation was “on a rapid downward spiral,” and were concerned that the conflict “has taken on worrying sectarian tones and deepening north-south divisions.”
The UN meeting on Sunday took place as the rebel forces pushed south over the weekend. As Al-Jazeera reports:
Benomar’s address came as the Houthis seized parts of the southern city of Taiz and its airport on Sunday after clashes with forces loyal to President Hadi.
Tens of tanks and armoured personnel carriers carrying Houthi fighters had crossed into al-Dhalie and Aden governorates, Al Jazeera’s correspondents said.
Ahmed al-Wafi, a Yemeni political activist told Al Jazeera that the Houthis had taken full control of Taiz military airbase, which lies around 180km north of Aden, and had deployed fighters to man checkpoints at the city’s entry points and streets.
In a televised address on Sunday, the Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi called on his supporters to mobilise towards the south of the country, a stronghold of Hadi’s allies.
On Saturday, the U.S. military ordered the evacuation of approximately 125 special forces soldiers which had been acting as advisers to Yemeni Army forces loyal to Hadi.
“Due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the U.S. government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement on Saturday.