by Ahmad Al-Haj, The Associated Press (reprinted by The Daily Star)
ADEN: Yemen’s powerful Shiite rebels who are in control of the capital swept a central city south of the capital Wednesday, after repelling Al-Qaeda militants in nearly two-weeks of deadly battles, officials said.
The rebels’ latest territorial gains came at a time of increasing international pressures on the Shiite group known also as Houthis. On Tuesday, the United States asked the United Nations Security Council to freeze the assets and impose a global travel ban on three figures blamed by Yemen’s western ally for orchestrating the current unrest. The three are former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and two Houthi leaders.
Security officials say that the rebels took control of Adeen, 200 kilometers south of Sanaa in Ibb province, which Al-Qaeda forces had captured over the past two weeks. Earlier last month, Al-Qaeda militants stormed the local security headquarters and held it for hours before fleeing to the mountains.
Adeen is not the only place where Al-Qaeda and the Houthis are engaged in direct confrontations. On Tuesday, at least 30 people were killed in clashes between Houthis and Al-Qaeda militants in the central town of Radda where tribes, opposed to both, fear of shifting alliances that could cause some tribes to side with Al-Qaeda against the Shiite rebels.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The Shiite rebels have been expanding their territorial gains over the past year and are widely suspected of having links to Shiite powerhouse Iran. Houthis follow the Shiite Zaydi faith, a branch of Shiite Islam that is almost exclusively found in Yemen and makes up about 30 percent of the country’s population.
They accuse the country’s embattled leadership of failing to take the lead in combatting Al-Qaeda and vowed to send Houthi militias or, “popular committees,” to combat the militant group in several parts of the country.
Despite the fact that both they and the U.S. oppose Al-Qaeda, the Houthis also take an anti-American stance and accuse the west of meddling in Yemen’s affairs.
Apart from the rampant Al-Qaeda insurgency and the Shiite rebel blitz, Yemen has also endured crushing poverty that has bred resentment – and outright rebellion – that took root in a secessionist movement in its once-independent southern region.