Aden and Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—In the latest sign of a shift in the tide of the conflict in Yemen, dozens of militias belonging to the Houthi movement are surrendering to forces of the Saudi-led coalition and Yemeni army, according to the governor of the central Ma’rib province.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Sultan Al-Arada said members of the Houthi militias and allied forces loyal to ousted ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh have been in contact with the Yemeni army and the military leadership of the Saudi-led coalition targeting the Houthis in Yemen.
“Some of them want to surrender while others are asking for safe passage” out of Ma’rib, where they have been fighting coalition, government loyalist, and Yemeni army forces—known collectively as the Joint Forces.
Arada said the militias’ requests will be “dealt with depending on [an assessment of their] individual credibility.”
The Joint Forces last Tuesday recaptured the province’s strategic Ma’rib Dam, which the Houthis and their allies had held for months. It was the latest in a series of victories for the anti-Houthi alliance which on Thursday also secured the recapture of the Bab El-Mandeb strait which links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden in the south of the country.
On Sunday the Joint Forces launched the second phase of the operation to liberate the Ma’rib province, seen as a staging post on the road to retaking the capital Sana’a, which has been under Houthi control for over a year.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, a high-ranking official from the Yemeni army said the Houthis had now withdrawn half of their forces from Ma’rib in order to shore up defenses around Sana’a.
Eyewitnesses told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday tanks and military vehicles belonging to the Houthi rebels have spread to areas surrounding the capital, and fighters armed with rocket launchers are being deployed throughout the city.
Yemen’s crisis began last September after the Houthis overran Sana’a. Aided by members of the security forces still loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh—who was ousted in 2012 after mass protests against his more-than-three-decade rule—aided the rebels’ takeover of the city.
Backed by Saleh loyalists and Iran, the Houthis then spread across other areas of the country, also targeting civilians in the process. The UN and international organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been highly critical of the Houthis’ shelling civilian areas. HRW has said that Houthi commanders and leaders could as a result face trial over human rights violations in Yemen.
In February the Houthis launched a coup against Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government, holding Hadi and cabinet members including Prime Minister Khaled Bahah under house arrest.
Both men eventually fled to Saudi Arabia where Hadi requested Riyadh and its Arab allies intervene in Yemen with military forces in order to restore the president and the government to power. The Saudi-led campaign began in March.
Following recent gains made by the Joint Forces, Hadi and the government have returned to the southern port city of Aden where they are resuming the government’s work to restore order and help rebuild the country.