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Yemen's separatists blame army for Al-Qaeda gains in south
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People gather outside the camp of the 19th Infantry Brigade after it was seized by Al-Qaeda fighters on February 12, 2015 in Baihan, in Yemen's southern Shabwah province. (AFP)

People gather outside the camp of the 19th Infantry Brigade after it was seized by Al-Qaeda fighters on February 12, 2015 in Baihan, in Yemen’s southern Shabwah province. (AFP)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Army officials facilitated the takeover of a strategic military base in southern Yemen by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters, Yemen’s southern separatist Al-Hirak group said.

Ansar Al-Sharia, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, took over the military base in Yemen’s southern Shabwah province on Thursday, gaining a major foothold in Yemen’s south. Al-Hirak officials described the Ansar Al-Sharia advance as a “despicable plot,” demanding that remaining bases in the area be placed under the control of armed forces personnel from the south.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Al-Hirak founding member Brig. Gen. Nasser Al-Nubah, accused Yemeni military officials of “facilitating” the Ansar Al-Sharia takeover of the military base.

The statement gave local authorities 24 hours to hand over another base, housing Yemen’s 21st brigade, to Al-Hirak’s military council.

“The [Al-Hirak] military council rejects the smearing of the image and reputation of the people of the province or linking them to terrorism as well as the Houthi advance into Yemen’s southern provinces under the pretext of fighting terrorism,” the statement said.

“The military council reiterates its categorical rejection of the constitutional declaration issued by the Houthi putschists,” the statement added.

The Ansar Al-Sharia takeover came after Houthis announced a controversial “constitutional declaration” that dissolved Yemen’s parliament and gave the Shi’ite militia de facto control of the country last week.

The Al-Hirak statement said it will hold the governor of Shabwah and the security committee fully responsible for the consequences if its demands are not met.

Radical Islamist militants have stepped up attacks in Yemen in response to the expanding presence of the Shi’ite Houthi movement. The group seized the capital Sana’a and other major cities in September and has now taken virtual control of Yemen’s government and ministries.

A key Yemen political coalition welcomed a draft UN resolution submitted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) denouncing the Houthis actions as a “coup” against the legitimate government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and calling for the complete withdrawal of Houthi fighters from the capital Sana’a.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, an official from the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an alliance of opposition political parties in Yemen, said: “[The draft resolution] confirms that the GCC states understand the nature of the situation in Yemen and the danger represented by an armed group seizing power, and the repercussions this could have on the region.”

The GCC strongly condemned the Houthi power grab, stressing that this is a threat not just to Yemen but the entire region.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia suspended all work at its embassy in Yemen and evacuated its staff due to concerns over the deteriorating security situation.

Yemen’s political factions have been holding talks with Houthis under the aegis of the UN in a bid to reach a political settlement.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, senior Islah party member Mohammed Qahtan said the UN-sponsored talks had reached a standstill after the Houthis refused to withdraw their constitutional declaration.

“I have walked out of these meetings and the reality is that everything suggests that we are at a standstill,” the Islah member said.

“Houthis will continue to grab territory while other factions will resist depending on . . . the support and backing they receive from the general public, regional states and international community.”

Mohammed Al-Ayed contributed reporting from Jeddah