Dubai – Clashes in the large city of Aden in Yemen reflect deep fractures in the anti-rebel camp and threaten to provoke “civil war in the civil war,” according to experts.
A poor country in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen has been torn apart for nearly five years by a war between Houthi rebels from the north and pro-government forces backed by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Houthis control areas in the north and west, as well as the capital Sanaa, while the antirebelle camp dominates the south.
But the anti-Houthi camp is itself divided, especially between southern separatists and government units, and has been fighting back violently since Wednesday.
These clashes, which killed more than 18 people including civilians, threaten to provoke, in southern Yemen, ” a civil war in the civil war ” already ravaging the country, said in a report the center for reflection on conflicts International Crisis Group (ICG).
On Saturday, separatist fighters – favorable to the independence of southern Yemen – claimed to have made great progress in Aden, beating government soldiers besieged by the presidential palace.
– Previous murderer –
This is not the first time that the separatists of the Southern Transitional Council (TCC) – which include a force named ” Cordon security ” formed by the United Arab Emirates – oppose units loyal to the Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
In January 2018, three days of fighting between the same forces left at least 38 dead and 222 wounded.
The pro-Hadi units had already been besieged at the presidential palace, and a concerted Saudi-Emirati intervention had allowed in extremis to stop the battle of Aden.
The circumstances of this week’s outbreak of hostilities remain confused, but TCC officials accused the Islamist Al-Islah party of killing a ” Cordon Security ” force commander . They also say for a while that al-Islah has ” infiltrated ” the Hadi government.
All of these forces, however, have been part of an Arab-Sunni coalition of Arab-led Sunni Arabs in Riyadh and the Abu Dhabi Emirati government since 2015, fighting against Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels.
The separatists of the JTS, however, have never hidden their hostility to the ” corrupt ” government of Mr. Hadi, himself a refugee in Ryad.
– The ” southern question ” –
Aden was the capital of South Yemen, an independent state before its merger with the North in 1990.
According to the ICG, the new clashes within the anti-Houthis camp underline the ” urgent need ” to treat ” the South ” and secessionists ” now ” rather than ” wait for a post-conflict political transition “.
In addition, the particularly complex situation of Aden reflects the ambiguities of the anti-rebel coalition, ” united against a common but fragmented enemy with no common identity ,” the ICG noted.
Even the Saudis and Emiratis are divided among themselves. The units loyal to President Hadi are supported by Ryad, while the STC and the Cordon Security Force are supported by Abu Dhabi.
On Saturday, the Abu Dhabi government said it was ” very worried ” about the situation in Aden and said it was working at a maximum of de-escalation, ” as an active partner of the coalition ” led by Ryad.
Abdallah ben Zayed, Emirati Minister of Foreign Affairs, called on all forces to focus on fighting the Houthis, considered the main enemy.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some 200,000 people in Aden do not have access to drinking water because of the fighting.
The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands, including a majority of civilians, according to various humanitarian sources.
About 3.3 million people are still displaced and 24.1 million, or 80 percent of the population, need assistance, according to the UN, which regularly discusses the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.