By Mohammed Hatem
(Bloomberg) — Fighting between Yemen’s warring factions spread on Wednesday, as the country’s main seaport of Aden was engulfed by violence and some of its grain silos set ablaze.
Clouds of smoke billowed from the silos and hung over the ancient city, for which the Gulf of Aden is named, said Nabil al-Quaiti, a resident and witness to the events. Civilians are appealing for help using mosques’ loudspeakers as clashes between Shiite Muslim Houthi gunmen and forces loyal to the country’s Saudi-backed president intensify, said Thabet Mahmud, another resident.
“I have seen dead bodies on the streets,” Mahmud said by phone. “The situation is really crazy.”
Political turmoil has driven Yemen to the brink of disintegration and allowed al-Qaeda to flourish within striking range of neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter. The Houthis, who say they have been marginalized by the central government for decades, took over most of the capital, Sana’a, in September and have since advanced into other parts of the country.
Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of 10 predominantly Sunni nations to face what its officials say is an Iranian proxy seeking to expand the influence of the Islamic Republic in the Middle East. Saudi and Gulf Arab officials have said the aim of the military campaign is to restore the rule of President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi and force the Houthis to resume talks.
The Houthis said this week they were ready to hold talks, sponsored by a party that’s not part of the Saudi-led military campaign. Ali al-Kahoum, a Houthi leader, also said the group won’t accept Hadi returning to power.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi said in Beirut that the coalition’s offensive is a strategic mistake that has killed and wounded innocent civilians, and damaged infrastructure. The campaign against the Houthis will fuel regional animosity, Sarmadi told a news conference.
Iran has dispatched a destroyer and a logistics ship to the Gulf of Aden, Fars news agency reported Wednesday. Iranian vessels regularly patrol the area to protect shipping routes.
Naif al-Bakri, the deputy governor of Aden, said Tuesday that thousands were fleeing the city due to the violence. The Houthis and forces loyal to them advanced on Aden, Hadi’s last stronghold, prompting the Saudi-led military action.
Al-Quaiti said the silos were shelled after Houthi snipers tried to make use of them. The Aden Silos & Mills Co. and the Yemen Co. for Flour Mills & Silos have facilities near the Aden harbor, according to their websites. Calls to both companies weren’t answered.
The Houthis say they operate independently of Iran and are fighting against oppression by Sunni-dominated governments in Yemen. They follow the Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam, like about 40 percent of Yemen’s people, and are concentrated in the northern half of a country that only reunified in 1990 after decades of division into two states.
The rebels have formed an alliance with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh — once their bitter enemy — who still commands the loyalty of parts of the army.
(c) 2015 Bloomberg.