Three Houthi Operation Rooms in Kuwait Affiliated with Tehran

Houthis

Riyadh-The Houthi delegation, which is participating in the Kuwait talks, has three operation rooms that are responsible for helping the team to manipulate the talks track that are supervised by the United Nations, Yemeni informed sources revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat.

The sources said these operation rooms include Iranian and foreign experts and are joined via a telecommunications network that is spread among Tehran, Kuwait and another Gulf country.

They also explained that the Yemeni legitimate government delegation is being subjected to international pressure in order to make concessions in the talks, confirming that it has received strict orders from the legitimate leadership not to sign any agreement that is not related to U.N. resolution 2216, according to five points that were agreed upon earlier.

The sources also noted that the rebel team and its media staff are trying to provoke the hosting country by launching their sectarian slogans in the streets of Kuwait or appearing in military suits on TV channels, which let Kuwaiti authorities warn the coup team members and threaten to expel them if they continued to break the laws and public morals in Kuwait.

Moreover, the consultations in Kuwait between the Yemeni government team and the Houthi and Saleh’s rebel team have not tackled major issues that the two teams disagree on since the rebel delegation is procrastinating and is insisting on discussing the political process before submitting the army’s arsenal and withdrawing from the cities.

Therefore, they are trying to legitimize their coup at a time when the government’s delegation is sticking to its stance to end all the procedures of the coup before talking about the political process in the country.

On the other hand, according to the U.N.’s agenda, the Kuwait talks include five different points: the withdrawal of militias, handover of heavy and medium weapons to the state, agree on temporary security arrangements, revival of state institutions through public dialogue between Yemenis, and the formation of a committee to resolve the issues of detainees and prisoners.

The Yemeni government adheres to implementing these points before tackling any other matter.

For his part, the U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced on Thursday the formation of three committees in the Kuwait consultations in order to discuss the five points and decide on a mechanism to implement U.N. resolution 2216.

The three committees created are on political matters, military and security issues, and dealings with prisoners of conscience and captives.

In a common matter, the member at the National Dialogue Conference and the logistic crew of the Yemeni government’s delegation, Hamza al-Kamali, confirmed that the government’s vision is based on regaining the state and restoring peace and stability in the country.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that discussions in Kuwait that are aimed at tackling the U.N. agenda’s five main points are being prevaricated by the Houthi rebels, who are working on lengthening the time to find a way out in a way they maintain their coup against the state.

Al-Kamali added that the rebels’ delegation had traveled to Kuwait with one main goal, which is to share power and consolidate its coup whereas the government delegation seeks to find a solution to end this war and restore peace, stability and public services for its citizens.

Hadi’s Adviser: Only the Implementation of Resolution 2216 Will be Discussed at Kuwait Talks

Dr Mohammed Al-Aamiri, the Yemeni presidential adviser and a member of the government’s delegation participating in the Kuwait consultations said that talks scheduled to take place on the 18th of April in Kuwait will focus strictly on the application of UN resolution 2216 which is still valid. He ruled out the need for a new resolution before the implementation of previous resolutions.

In an exclusive statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Aamiri said that the government has drawn up a vision to end the coup and will present ways of implementing resolution 2216 that focus on restoring state institutions and weapons that were looted. Ways of implementing confidence building measures such as lifting the siege on cities and the release of hostages; matters that the UN envoy to Yemen has already discussed, will be also be presented. He explained that “There isn’t a draft for the consultations except for ways of implementing the Security Council resolution, and this is why we are going”.

Al-Aamiri added that a military committee has devised a ceasefire monitoring system and will allocate tasks to local committees which will be supervised by governors appointed by the government. Experts from the United Nations will also be present as “the legitimate government knows very well that the rebels will not abide by the truce as usual but will go along with the peace plan despite that.” He added that “Despite this, the government will proceed with the Kuwait consultations to find a way of achieving peace for its people and we assure the world that we did not choose war and that the militias imposed it on us by upheaving state institutions.”

In the meantime, the Arab coalition carried out air raids on places controlled by Al-Qaeda in the Yemeni city of Al-Mukalla, the capital city of the Hadhramaut coastal province on Friday.

Yemen: Houthis hit back over Aden embassy move

People watch a screen displaying a live speech by the leader of the Houthi group Abdul Malik Al-Houthi in Sana'a on February 26, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi)
People watch a screen displaying a live speech by the leader of the Houthi group Abdul Malik Al-Houthi in Sana’a on February 26, 2015. (Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—In a televised speech on Thursday, Yemeni Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi issued a strongly-worded message backing his group’s coup in the capital Sana’a.

Houthi criticized Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s exit from Sana’a, and his establishment of a rival government in the southern port city of Aden. While Hadi had initially resigned in January 2015 after being placed under house arrest by the Shi’ite militia, he managed to escape the Yemeni capital this week and flee to Aden, renouncing his resignation and beginning work to establish a new government.

Houthi criticized the US and Saudi Arabia for backing Hadi and opposing his group, calling on his supporters to be on a high state of alert to any foreign interference.

“The protests and demonstrations must continue and intensify . . . to ensure that all plots [against Yemen] fail,” he said.

The Houthi leader’s speech came just one day after Saudi Arabia moved its embassy to Aden. Riyadh had earlier shut down its embassy in Sana’a and evacuated its staff from the country in mid-February, citing concerns over the deteriorating security situation in the country following the Houthi coup.

Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Said Al-Jaber confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that the embassy has officially opened in Aden.

The UN Security Council has also backed Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as “the legitimate president of Yemen.”

In a statement issued on Thursday the UN called on the Houthis to engage in national dialogue with the different political factions in Yemen to reach a solution to the crisis.

Also on Thursday, UN special envoy to Yemen, Jamar Benomar, called on Yemen’s various political parties to demonstrate “goodwill” in order to ensure the success of the dialogue.

Speaking from Aden, Benomar confirmed that the national dialogue is based on the Gulf Initiative and the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, as well as the Peace and National Partnership Agreement that had been agreed between Hadi and the Houthis.

Houthis seize key province in central Yemen

Yemeni security forces secure the entrance of the US embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, on February 11, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)
Yemeni security forces secure the entrance of the US embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, on February 11, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Fighters from Yemen’s powerful Houthi group seized control of the provincial capital of the Al-Bayda governorate on Tuesday without any resistance from government forces, local sources and eyewitnesses told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Eyewitnesses said Houthi militias, backed by the Yemeni army 139th and 117th infantry brigades, deployed in the streets and the state buildings of the city of Al-Bayda on Tuesday.

“Residents were surprised Tuesday morning when a military campaign, accompanied by tanks, heavy artillery and military vehicles, deployed across the streets and military and security posts overlooking the northern entrance of the city of Al-Bayda,” sources in central Yemen told Asharq Al-Awsat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Tribal militants from the city launched a series of RPG attacks on Houthi checkpoints, killing and injuring dozens and detonating two military vehicles, according to eyewitnesses.

Sporadic clashes followed between armed tribesmen and the Houthis near the city’s security headquarters.

The fall of the central city of Al-Bayda will serve as a stepping stone for the Shi’ite group to tighten its grip on the rest of the troubled country, including the restive southern provinces, according to analysts.

Al-Bayda, 130 miles (209 miles) southeast of Sana’a, is also a gateway to the strategic Ma’rib province, home to the bulk of Yemen’s oil and gas infrastructure.

With the takeover of the central governorate, the Houthis have extended their influence over 11 of Yemen’s 21 governorates since the movement’s occupation of the capital Sana’a in September.

The Houthis have also sought to tighten their control of Yemen’s central government, announcing a “constitutional declaration” last week that ordered the dissolution of parliament and assigned the running of the country to its security body, known as the “Revolutionary Committee,” sparking a new round in the crisis that has gripped Yemen for months.

The declaration came after talks to find a successor to Yemen’s President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government failed. Hadi resigned after being placed under house arrest by the Houthis.

Analysts warn that the Houthis’ actions will also embolden radical Sunni Islamists, and may result in jihadists attempting to travel to Yemen to take up arms against he Shi’ite movement.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saeed Obeid Al-Jamhi, an expert on Islamist groups, said: “The Houthi plan will push Yemen into a series of wars and infighting during which the country will experience highly dangerous conditions no less serious than what is happening in Syria.”

Jamhi warned that the Houthi push into Al-Bayda will attract “hundreds of fighters from around the globe and turn Yemen into a hotbed of conflict that threatens Gulf security and at the same time serves the strategic interests of the US and Iran.”

“The Houthis’ capture of Al-Bayda governorate comes within their implementation of their own road map to swallow what remains of the country,” he said.

The expert accused the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, of double standards—“working militarily while sitting on the negotiating table.”

On Tuesday UN Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar headed a fresh round of talks between political factions in Sana’a in a bid to reach a political settlement.

The UN-sponsored talks have been disrupted on several occasions over the Houthis’ refusal to bow to demands for lifting the house arrest imposed on former president Hadi and pulling out its militants from state facilities.

In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, the assistant secretary-general of the Al-Islah party, one of the parties participating in the talks, said the dialogue between the Houthis and other groups had so far been inconclusive.

“We joined the talks with others . . . in the hope that things would return to normal and move towards a positive atmosphere [so we can] find solutions. The Yemeni people are so tired of conflicts.”

The growing chaos in Yemen prompted the US, UK, and France to announce the closure of their embassies on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Recent unilateral actions disrupted the political transition process in Yemen, creating the risk that renewed violence would threaten Yemenis and the diplomatic community in Sana’a,” US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

The German government also announced on Wednesday it was preparing to close its embassy in Sana’a.

Mohammed Al-Ayed contributed reporting from Jeddah.

Yemen: Houthis press advance after Hadi resignation

A Shiite Houthi militiaman wearing uniform confiscated from the Yemeni army sits on a government tank in the area around the presidential palace in the capital Sanaa, on January 22, 2015. (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)
A Shiite Houthi militiaman wearing uniform confiscated from the Yemeni army sits on a government tank in the area around the presidential palace in the capital Sanaa, on January 22, 2015. (AFP/Mohammed Huwais)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Houthi fighters have boosted their military presence near Yemen’s western Ma’rib province ahead of a feared advance into the strategic energy hub following the resignation of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his government.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, a senior tribal official in the oil-rich region said Houthi militants stormed a military base in the western Sana’a district of Arqoub on Thursday after besieging it for two days.

The attackers captured tanks and rocket launchers as well as other heavy weaponry from Yemen’s Seventh Army Brigade, the tribal sheikh said.

Violent clashes broke out in nearby Watad district after Houthi gunmen intercepted a vehicle carrying tribal fighters, killing at least two and injuring six others, he added.

The takeover of the military base sees the Shi’ite group tightening its hold on Yemen by targeting its oil and gas infrastructure.

Ma’rib tribes have been on high alert for months now in anticipation of an expected Houthi attack.

Following the latest unrest in the western province, Ma’rib tribal and military leaders held a meeting to form an executive body tasked with defending and overseeing the oil-rich region.

However political and security instability is only expected to worsen following the resignation of President Hadi, Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and the Yemeni government on Thursday.

Ma’rib tribal authorities condemned the actions of the Houthis in a statement on Thursday, accusing the Shi’ite militia of carrying out a “coup” against President Hadi and the [Yemeni] government.

The statement emphasized that “oil, gas and energy facilities [in Ma’rib] belong to the Yemeni people and their legitimate authorities.”

Also in a statement on Thursday, Yemen’s Joint Meeting Parties—a coalition of six opposition parties—warned that the Houthi reliance on force to achieve their political goals will lead to “responses that will disrupt national bonds and threaten the integrity and unity of the national territories.”

The statement condemned “any act that compromises Yemen’s constitutional institutions.”

While Yemen’s Nasserist Unionist People’s Organization party blamed President Hadi for the dangerous turn the country has taken since the Houthi takeover of the capital Sana’a last year.

“President Hadi’s administration of the country and his reliance on many of the mechanisms and tools inherited from the former regime are among the reasons that the country is in the situation it finds itself in today,” a party statement said.

Chaos and instability in Sana’a escalated as hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the capital to condemn the Houthis following Hadi’s resignation. Protesters gathered outside Hadi’s residence, shouting slogans accusing the Shi’ite militia of mounting a coup.

Yemen: Ma’rib tribes on high alert ahead of Houthi advance

Yemeni tribal fighters gathered in Matarih area on the outskirts of the western city of Ma'rib. (Asharq Al-Awsat.)
Yemeni tribal fighters gathered in Matarih area on the outskirts of the western city of Ma’rib. (Asharq Al-Awsat.)

Ma’rib, Asharq Al-Awsat—More than 14,000 tribal fighters have been placed on high alert in Yemen’s western Ma’rib governorate ahead of a feared Houthi attack on the strategic province, local tribal sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, tribal Sheikh Saleh Al-Najaf said local tribes have deployed more than 14,000 fighters on the northern and western borders of Ma’rib city after the Houthis threatened to storm the province to purge it from radical Islamist fighters. The Sunni-dominated governorate is home to the bulk of Yemen’s oil and gas resources and control of the region would constitute a significant coup for the Shi’ite Houthi movement.

Sheikh Najaf said more volunteers would be joining anti-Houthi ranks soon, pledging that no “rebels” will be allowed to enter the province.

Over the past five months, Ma’rib tribes have been able to train and equip thousands of fighters in the mountainous desert area that links the western province with Sana’a. Ma’rib’s tribal leaders have now deployed the fighters to border positions, dubbed Matarih, on the outskirts of tribal areas, to push back against any Houthi advance.

“We have directions from the President of the Republic to protect public interests and the security and stability of the province,” Najaf said.

“We support the legitimate President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. As for the Houthis, they are occupiers, invaders and terrorists,” he added.

Many in Yemen blame the government for failing to curb the Houthi advance across the country, with some pointing to collusion between the Shi’ite group and government officials who sympathize with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“The people of Ma’rib stand with the [Yemeni] state and army against saboteurs and terrorists but government bodies should shoulder their responsibilities,” the Ma’rib tribal sheikh told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He also warned that Yemen’s powerful Sunni tribal forces, which have predominately backed the government against the Houthis, could move to take measures into their own hands if the military continue to fail to engage the advancing Houthi fighters.

“If Houthis enter our province and we find there was betrayal on the part of the military camps in Ma’rib, we would be saying goodbye to our oil interests,” he said.

The region falls under the control of a supreme tribal council consisting of the leaders of the main local tribes and tasked with the distribution of fighters, ammunition and food rations.

“All fighters represent their tribes and they have no connections with any political parties,” Sheikh Abdullah Ahmed Al-Sadhan of the Obeida tribe told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Each tribe is funding itself and provides for all its fighters’ needs, from weapons, ammunition, foods and vehicles,” he added.

The Ma’rib tribal fighters have been divided into teams of twenty, with checkpoints being established at 15 km increments along the border in order to prevent Houthi infiltration. Heavy weaponry, including anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft missiles and makeshift armored vehicles, have also been stationed at the region’s borders.

Yemen: Hadi advisers meet with Houthis on security

Survivors of the Shi'ite Houthi milita stand next to a hole in the wall left by a bomb blast targeting their base in Sana'a, Yemen, on January 5, 2015. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)
Survivors of the Shi’ite Houthi milita stand next to a hole in the wall left by a bomb blast targeting their base in Sana'a, Yemen, on January 5, 2015. (EPA/Yahya Arhab)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s embattled President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi sent a delegation of advisers to meet with Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi on Tuesday to discuss the deteriorating security situation in the country.

The Yemeni presidential advisers are meeting with the Shi’ite militia leader in Saada province—a Houthi stronghold—to negotiate issues relating to the Peace and Partnership agreement that was signed last September.

Diplomatic sources, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said the talks will revolve around the deteriorating security situation in the country, Yemen’s draft constitution, and the federalization of the state.

Yemen’s Houthis have, so far, failed to sign off on the blueprint of dividing Yemen into six federal states, one of the outcomes of the Yemeni National Dialogue.

“The blueprint is an attempt to tear up this country and turn it into small and weak cantons that can easily be controlled,” Houthi said in a televised address on Saturday.

“Other countries should deal with Yemen on a basis of respect and non-intervention,” he added.

The move comes as Houthi fighters continue to advance in central and western parts of the country, while a series of retaliatory bombings by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) targeting Houthis have rocked the Yemeni capital.

Local media on Tuesday reported that five improvised explosive devices exploded in Sana’a’s Old City, killing at least one Houthi fighter and injuring others. An explosion in western Sana’a on Sunday, targeting a Houthi fighter base in the city, had earlier left six people injured.

The escalating unrest in the Yemeni capital comes amid public anger towards the Houthis’ ongoing presence in the city, something that rivals say violates the Peace and Partnership agreement signed with Hadi last year.

Yemen’s oil and gas in danger: Ma’rib governor

Shi'ite Houthi rebels man a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the city of Sana'a, Yemen, on November 15, 2014.(Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi)
Shi'ite Houthi rebels man a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the city of Sana'a, Yemen, on November 15, 2014.(Reuters/Mohamed Al-Sayaghi)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Oil and gas reserves and facilities in Yemen’s main oil and gas hub are “in danger,” according to the governor of the Ma’rib province, as the Houthi movement continues its attempts to advance on the region.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, the province’s governor, Sheikh Sultan Al-Arada, said the Shi’ite group was seeking to “destabilize the security and stability of Ma’rib,” which produces more than 70 percent of Yemen’s oil and gas and acts as the country’s main electricity generation hub.

“The Ma’rib province is tied to the daily lives of the people of Yemen, because the province produces [most of] our oil, gas and electricity. When these assets are attacked, it affects the whole country,” he said.

There have been several reports of a growing Houthi presence outside Ma’rib, with the group saying it seeks only to secure the province’s facilities, but Arada said “it would be more appropriate for them [the Houthis] to safeguard security in the areas they already control before they come and talk about safeguarding it here in Ma’rib.”

The Houthi movement has been in virtual control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and other parts of the country since September, when armed members of the group spread across the city taking over government buildings and facilities, unopposed by the Yemeni police and military.

Arada said the Houthi takeover of Sana’a had been “very frightening” for the people of Ma’rib, and for that reason the province had planned early on for a possible advance by the group.

He said he had been approached indirectly by the group, which asked him to broker an agreement between local tribes and tribes allied to the Shi’ite group to enter the province, but he had refused.

Ma’rib’s tribes have said they are ready to defend the province in the event of a Houthi takeover in the manner of their advance on Sana’a, Arada said.

“The sons of Ma’rib will only accept the presence of state security forces in their province. They therefore refuse the presence of any armed groups or militias. This is unacceptable and something we reject totally,” he said.

A visiting parliamentary delegation had signed an agreement with the province’s tribes mandating them to stand by the state in protecting the region and defending it against “negative phenomena such as terror attacks, acts of sabotage, and the activities of militias or armed groups,” he said.

“In this way, we have blocked this pretense which some are hiding behind when they claim they wish to protect the interests of the province,” he said, in reference to the Houthis, adding that Ma’rib’s tribes were fully “standing by the state in the face of anyone who wishes to destabilize its security and stability, especially in light of the Houthis now having reached Ma’rib’s borders.”

Meanwhile, 54 million dollars’ worth of food supplies provided by Saudi Arabia to Yemen to help ease the current effects of the dire economic conditions in the country—the Arabian peninsula’s poorest—began being distributed on Sunday.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Bin Said Al Jabir, said the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz “would spare no effort to help Yemen and keep it united.”

He added that the help given by Saudi Arabia was “not motivated by any ulterior motive” and that it was offering aid “to all of Yemen’s people without any bias.”

“The security of Yemen is part of the Kingdom’s and the Gulf’s, and the wider world’s, as well,” he added.

Additional reporting by Arafat Madabish.

Hadi calls for military to cooperate with Houthis

Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi speaks during the closing session of the National Dialogue Conference in Sana'a, Yemen, in January 2014 (AP Photo/Yemen Defense Ministry, File).
Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi speaks during the closing session of the National Dialogue Conference in Sana’a, Yemen, in January 2014 (AP Photo/Yemen Defense Ministry, File)

Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—Yemen’s interim President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi called on the Yemeni military to cooperate with the Ansar Allah group during a meeting on Monday, marking a major shift in his attitude towards the powerful Shi’ite movement, also known as the Houthis, which has taken control of large parts of the country.

Hadi, who also serves as commander-in-chief of the Yemeni Armed Forces, said that achieving a “national partnership” with the Houthis was a necessary step to maintain security and stability.

“Ansar Allah are today’s partners and we must work to normalize the situation,” Hadi told a meeting attended by the country’s top military leaders, including the newly appointed Minister of Defense Mahmoud Al-Subaihi. He described partnering with Houthis as “a necessary and urgent” step to ensuring Yemen remains united.

Some observers said the timing of Hadi’s comments were significant, coming only two days after the Emirati government added the Houthis to Abu Dhabi’s list of terrorist groups.

Composed largely of Zaydi Shi’ite fighters loyal to Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, the movement stormed key government and military buildings in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, in mid-September after months of protests against what they described as marginalization by Hadi’s Sunni-majority government. Since then, the movement’s fighters have moved from its stronghold in the north towards central and southern parts of the country.

At the same time, Hadi urged the Houthis to halt their expansion to avoid bloodshed and the prospects of a sectarian strife breaking out in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

The interim president also requested international donors “fulfill their pledges to help Yemen,” maintaining that his country is facing “tough economic conditions.”

He also called on the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to invest in Yemen, maintaining that “the course of development is in a safe position now.”

In a separate meeting with ministry officials and chiefs of staff on Monday, Minister of Defense Subaihi vowed to “take all necessary steps to restore the prestige of the armed forces and [the level of] its combat-readiness.”

Subaihi explained that his ministry was set to “introduce a new package of reforms and measures aimed at addressing imbalances and negligence suffered by the armed forces.”

Meanwhile, in another example of the violent factionalism and unrest that continue to dog the country, fighting flared on Monday between army units and tribal gunmen over tractor units loaded with oil derivatives in the eastern Ma’rib governorate.

The clashes broke out in the Erkin area after a gang of bandits seized truckloads of gasoline on their way to Sana’a, local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. One civilian was injured as tongues of flames were seen rising from the burned-out vehicles.

Ma’rib provides more than 10 of Yemen’s governorates with oil and electricity, and armed gangs often resort to holding oil deliveries to ransom in order to secure financial and political concessions.

Yemeni tribes say they will resist Houthi takeover of oil facilities

Shi'ite Houthi rebels man a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the city of Sana'a, Yemen, on November 15, 2014.(Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)
Shi'ite Houthi rebels man a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the city of Sana'a, Yemen, on November 15, 2014.(Reuters/Mohamed al-Sayaghi)

Ma’rib and Al-Hudaydah, Asharq Al-Awsat—As clashes continued in the Yemeni oil-rich central province of Ma’rib between members of the Shi’ite Houthi movement and tribal fighters, the latter have threatened to attack petroleum installations and power plants in the province, should the Houthis be successful in capturing them.

Leaders of several of the province’s most prominent tribes issued a joint press statement on Sunday threatening to destroy oil and gas installations rather than allow them to fall into the hands of the Houthis.

Tribal sources have said armed members of the Shi’ite movement were being spotted more frequently on the outskirts of the province, and that local tribal leaders suspected they were planning to take control of the oil and gas fields there as part of their advance across Yemen.

Since September, the Houthis have spread throughout Yemen, using armed members and those from their affiliate Ansar Allah group to gain control of large parts of the country, including the capital Sana’a. Fighters loyal to the movement have also occupied government buildings and military installations, amid an almost total absence of resistance from the security forces after Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi struck an agreement with the group to restore fuel subsidies and create a new government which included some of its members.

Earlier this month, sanctions on two senior Houthi leaders were approved by the UN Security Council. The sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans, were also applied to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is accused of conspiring with the Houthis and who ruled Yemen for over 30 years before being forced to step down in 2012 by mass public protests. All three are accused of posing a threat to Yemen’s fragile political transition.

Ma’rib, which lies some 107 miles (173 kilometers) to the northeast of Sana’a, is home to most of the country’s oil reserves. Oil revenues make up some 70 percent of Yemen’s entire budget and are the main source of income for the country, which is the poorest in the Arabian Peninsula. The province is also Yemen’s main power-generating hub, serving as the main source of electricity for the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, a source in the the western Al-Hudaydah province told Asharq Al-Awsat that armed Houthis movement had surrounded the Yemeni Navy and Coastal Defense headquarters in the province, expelling naval personnel stationed there.

The source, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “The Houthi militias want to control the [navy’s] headquarters and the weapons depots belonging to the navy.”

He added, that, in a repeat of other scenes across the country since September, the Houthis were able to advance on the headquarters building “without any resistance to speak of.”

Dawd Yehya Hassan Mohamed, a member of the Yemeni Navy based in Al-Hudaydah, told Asharq Al-Awsat that naval officers officers and enlisted personnel had begun a sit-in last Wednesday, pitching tents outside navy HQ to protest what they said was growing corruption and discrimination against some serving sailors within the organization.

He denied reports that the Houthis had managed to infiltrate the sit-in, or that they had taken over the headquarters.

“Their [the Houthis’] presence here outside the headquarters is solely for the purpose of protecting the building and preventing any trouble from occurring, as they have done outside other government buildings,” Mohamed said.

Wael Hazam contributed reporting from Al-Hudaydah