Sana’a and Al-Hudaydah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s internationally recognized president accused former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi rebels of attempting a military coup after warplanes attacked the presidential palace of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in the southern city of Aden on Thursday.
In a statement issued on Thursday the Aden-based presidency described the airstrikes on Hadi’s residence as “a coup attempt” staged by “Iran’s agents.”
Hadi has previously accused Iran of backing the Houthi Shi’ite rebel movement.
Hadi was inside the presidential palace when warplanes attacked, presidential adviser Mohammed Marem told Asharq Al-Awsat. The president is understood to have been transferred to a safe place shortly after the attack began.
The air raid occurred after army forces loyal to Hadi, backed by the volunteer Popular Committees, repelled an attack on Aden International Airport by the Special Security Forces (SSF) whose commander Gen. Abdul Hafiz Al-Saqqaf has refused to hand his unit over to Aden authorities.
Saqqaf’s forces started shelling the airport early on Thursday, before taking over parts of it, eyewitnesses said.
All flights from and to Aden have been suspended.
Several Popular Committees militants were killed in the clashes with the SSF before army units led by Defense Minister Mahmoud Al-Subaihi shelled the compound where Saqqaf was holed up.
Violence spread to the nearby province of Lahj in southern Yemen where at least six were killed during clashes between Hadi loyalists and SSF militants.
Unidentified militants on Thursday fired on the convoy of the Lahj governor, Ahmed Abdullah Al-Majidi, who was on his way to Aden, sources close to the governor’s office told Asharq Al-Awsat. A security guard was killed.
When asked about Saqqaf’s whereabouts, Marem said the rebel general had secured access to Lahj through tribal mediators after receiving death threats from the families of those killed in Aden.
Meanwhile in western Yemen, an Iranian warship loaded with 180 tons worth of military equipment and ammunition arrived in Al-Salif port in Al-Hudaydah province on Thursday, official sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.
A port official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: “Houthis shut the gates of the port and prevented workers from entering amid a remarkable presence of Houthi militants around it.”
The arrival of the military shipment represents a major military escalation by the Houthis, observers have warned.
The shipment comes after the Houthis signed a deal with Tehran to expand Al-Hudaydah port, Yemen’s second largest harbor, and boost naval cooperation between the two countries.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, professor of political science at Al-Hudaydah University Hameed Al-Mikhlafi said: “Developing and investing in the Al-Hudaydah port serves the interest of the [Houthi] Ansar Allah group as it would serve as a bridge to communicate with the Iranians away from the international community’s oversight.”
Wael Hazzam also contributed reporting.