By The Guardian,
SHIA rebels seized Yemen’s state news agency and television station on Monday, as street battles raged between rebels and government forces in what officials described as a “move towards a coup”.
Security in the capital, Sana’a, quickly unravelled on Monday morning, with the rebels, known as Houthis, besieging the presidential palace and all foreign embassies closed. A tentative ceasefire was in place by evening.
The violence was the worst to have rocked Sana’a since the Houthis took over the Yemeni capital in September, and poses a serious threat to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s authority. The spasm appears rooted in the Houthis’ rejection of a draft constitution that divides Yemen into six regions.
Houthis, who comprise around 30% of the country’s population, want Yemen instead to be divided into two regions, which would give them a better chance of consolidating their new-found power.
Hailed as a beacon for change early in the uprisings that resounded across the Arab world four years ago, Yemen has since become one of the region’s most fragile and volatile states, with central power having been whittled away and non-state parties, with foreign backers, gaining the ascendancy.
A convoy carrying Yemen’s prime minister was shot at as it left the presidential palace on Monday, and Hadi’s chief of staff was abducted by Houthis over the weekend.
“Hadi ordered his guards to attack Houthi fighters and civilians. We will not remain neutral as Hadi kills Yemenis,” said Osama Sari, a senior Houthi activist.
Dozens of residences close to the presidential palace were damaged by the use of heavy artillery on both sides. In a sign of a further erosion of Hadi’s power, officials told the Guardian that some military units based in the suburbs of Sana’a refused presidential orders to attack Houthi militants and remained neutral.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam accused Hadi of reneging on a commitment not to divide the country into six regions.
“We agreed months ago with Hadi to delay the resolution on whether the new Yemen will be six regions or not. But Hadi did not stick to his promise.
“Hadi attempted to assist al-Qaida and arm them in Mareb province, which would destroy the country,” Salam claimed.
A presidential source accused the Houthis of igniting the clashes. “Houthi militants were ready the night before the attack. Hundreds of their gunmen entered Sana’a from the northern and southern entrances,” they said.
On Sunday, oil production in Yemen’s most strategic oil province came to a halt in protest against the Houthi militants’ kidnapping of Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, Hadi’s chief of staff, top officials in Shabwa said. The majority of foreigners working in Yemen’s oil sector in Shabwa province were evacuated on Sunday.
The Houthis, a group with roots in the Shia Zaidi sect, took control of Sana’a on 21 September after surrounding the capital for 12 days. Their control was secured through a ceasefire deal with the brittle government, which had been widely criticised by Yemenis for failing to deliver services.
After signing the deal, the Houthis formed “resistance committees” and stationed themselves in ministries, government institutions and the central bank.
Saudi Arabia joined regional and international efforts to broker the ceasefire.