Houthi rebels seize airport at Taiz and set up checkpoints at entrances into Yemen city
Houthi fighters along with troops loyal to former president Saleh have taken control of the airport at the southern city of Taiz and also parts of the city, setting up checkpoints at entrance points. Taiz is the third largest city in Yemen.
The Houthi Shia rebels originally based in the north of Yemen have taken control of most of the north including the capital Sanaa. After President Mansour Hadi was unable to form a government acceptable to the Houthis, they seized power and have formed their own government. Former president Ali Saleh who still has considerable power with the armed forces appears to be allied with the Houthis. The UN imposed sanctions on Saleh and two Houthi commanders last November. This did nothing to stop the Houthi advance but certainly made it more difficult for UN-brokered talks to come up with a political solution. The rise of the Houthis supported by Iran sends shivers down the spines of the US, Saudi Arabia, and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council who brokered the deal to have Saleh step down and transfer power to his then vice-president Mansour Hadi.Hadi later ran unopposed for president and won in an event touted in the west as a sign democracy was working in Yemen, that is, the important neighbouring powers and the US approved of him. He cooperated with the US in the war against terrorism, supporting unpopular drone strikes.There was a long consultative process called the National Dialogue Conference(NDC) that gathered together a large number of Yemen stakeholders in the political process designed to map a way forward towards democracy for Yemen. However, some groups from the southern separatist movement boycotted the conference. The Houthis took part but withdrew after two of their representatives were assassinated, and they rejected the results:In particular, the Houthis objected to the plan to divide Yemen into six regions. The southern separatist movement also disagreed with the six division plan that was drafted by Hadi:Hadi was able to flee from virtual house arrest in Sanaa to the southern port of Aden. Even there the castle where he stayed was attacked by planes and he had to flee. While the southern Sunnis are opposed to Houthi rule, many also detest Hadi. The southerners may hope to form an autonomous or independent area. If the Houthis have trouble establishing their sway in the south, they may very well come to some type of agreement with the southern separatist movement. Western support for Hadi is little help for him.While Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) hates Hadi they hate the Houthis even more. They have gained support from Sunni tribes helping to slow or stop the Houthi advance into Sunni majority areas. Added to this stew of conflicting groups, some radical jihadists in Yemen are now claiming allegiance to theIslamic State and have claimed responsibility for bloody suicide attacks on two mosques in Sanaa. The quadruple suicide attacks killed at least 137 people and wounded another 350 others. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest says that the US is investigating the claim by the IS that it is responsible for the attack but cautioned that the IS often claimed responsibility for attacks for propaganda value. However, radical groups often associated with Al Qaeda have been splitting off members who claim allegiance to the IS in many areas. In Libya recently Ansar al-Sharia suffered a split with many members pledging allegiance to the IS and the same seems to be happening in Tunisia. The IS in Yemen is no doubt composed mainly of former members of AQAP. It may be embarrassing to the US to have another even more radical group in Yemen than AQAP whom they consistently represent as a clear and present danger not only to Yemen but the US. Along with their Arab allies they are witnessing the demise of all their plans to control the political process in Yemen and the likely demise of their chosen leader Mansour Hadi. Instead they face southern separatists, Iran-backed Houthis, and several growing groups of militant jihadists allied with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.The US has decided the situation is so bad for them that they are withdrawing almost 100 Special Operations Forces from the Al Anad airbase as the security situation deteriorates. The US had closed its embassy in Sanaa last month. The exit of the Special Forces makes it clear that the US has had boots on the ground for some time in Yemen. There have been numerous attacks against AQAP and the US has also been involved in rescue efforts. At the request of Mansour Hadi, who still calls himself president, and is supported by all the important powers, the UN is to call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. So all the countries who helped create this mess will now decide how to mess it up further with some sort of intervention. The best outcome is that the Security Council Members will not be able to agree on any course of intervention. While battles may continue for some while eventually the Yemenis themselves may be able to sort things out. The Houthis would rather be kingmakers than rule themselves so they could ally with the southern movement and local tribe elders to eventually reach a political agreement.
On January 21, 2014, Ahmed Sharif Al-Din, a Houthi representative in the NDC, was assassinated in Sana’a on his way to the conference, fueling tensions between Houthis and government-aligned elements. This was the second assassination of a Houthi representative, after Abdulkarim Jadban in November 2013. As a result, the Houthis withdrew from the conference and denounced the outcomes. On January 25, the closing ceremony of the NDC was held and the Final Outcomes Document was signed.
Mohammad Ali Ahmed, a southern representative to the NDC who resigned in November 2013, stated that, "what has been announced about the six regions is a coup against what had been agreed at the (NDC) dialogue." Al-Hirak member Nasser al-Nawba rejected the NDC outcomes and stated that, "We will continue our peaceful struggle until we achieve independence.” Most southern leaders boycotted the Dialogue from the beginning of the process.Al-Hirak is one of the main southern separatist movements. South Yemen was formerly independent.