The Yemeni government on Thursday accused the United Arab Emirates of conducting air strikes against its troops in the "provisional capital" Aden, in support of separatists who claim to have regained control of the southern city of the country at war.
In just 24 hours, the port city of Aden, supposed to symbolize resistance to Houthi insurgents, has again changed hands in a fratricidal struggle between southern separatists in the government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi recognized by the international community.
The separatists said they took it back to the loyalist forces that controlled it Wednesday. The city was first conquered on August 10 by the separatists after deadly fighting.
The open war between the government and separatists and accusations over Abu Dhabi's role further undermine the cohesiveness of a military coalition in Yemen, whose two pillars, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, are at odds.
Indeed, the first country, neighbor of Yemen, supports the Hadi government while the second supports the separatists united in the Southern Transition Council (STC) which calls for the independence of the South.
Saudis and Emiratis joined forces in 2015 to intervene in Yemen and prevent the Houthi rebels from the North, who were supported by Iran, Ryad's regional rival, from taking control of Yemen as a whole.
According to STC spokesman Haitham Nezar, the separatists "completely control the city of Aden and its entrances".
Government forces "retreated" to the neighboring province of Abyane, a government security source confirmed.
According to security officials, the separatists chased the loyalists to Zinjibar, capital of the neighboring province of Abyane, about 100 km east of Aden, where fighting between the two camps is taking place.
– "Aggression" of the Emirates –
Hadi's government hastened to accuse the UAE of providing decisive support to the separatists to retake Aden by bombarding the loyalist forces.
"The government condemns the aerial bombardments of the Emirates against its troops in Aden and Zinjibar," Mohammed al-Hadhrami, deputy minister of foreign affairs, said on Twitter.
He reported an unknown number of dead and wounded in these bombings.
Aden residents told AFP they heard air raid noises on Wednesday as government forces entered the city.
In a statement, the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that the hospital it manages in Aden admitted Wednesday in a few hours 51 wounded, including ten succumbed.
Hadhrami called on Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition supporting its government, to "end this illegal escalation."
Aden became the "provisional capital" of the Hadi government after the Houthis took over the capital Sanaa in the north of this poor country of the Arabian Peninsula.
Separatists and government forces had previously fought together with the Houthis, but their relationship has been strained since 2017. The fighting between them in the south since early August is a new front in the war in Yemen.
– Call for dialogue –
The separatists have brought reinforcements and seem determined to regain control of the sectors in the hands of the power in the South.
This part of Yemen was an independent state until the unification of southern and northern Yemen in 1990.
According to Haitham Nezar, the separatists envision an offensive on the provinces of Abyane and Chabwa, currently in the hands of power.
During a meeting with Prince Khaled ben Salman, brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a negotiated settlement with the separatists. "Dialogue is the only way to achieve a stable, unified and prosperous Yemen," according to the State Department.
The meeting took place after the Wall Street Journal reported that Donald Trump's administration was preparing to begin direct talks with the Houthis to try to end the war unleashed after an offensive by these rebels who seized large parts of the territory, including Sanaa.
Since 2014, the conflict has left tens of thousands dead, including many civilians, according to NGOs, and plunged the country into the worst humanitarian crisis in the world according to the UN.