ADEN, YEMEN — In a complicated turn of events, the battle in southern Yemen between opposing factions of the Saudi-led Coalition has sparked a new tragedy, affecting civilians who were already suffering under the four years of war that the Coalition has waged on their country — a war that has killed thousands of their loved ones and led to famine and the spread of disease, and set their country’s already-faltering development back decades.
“The only option for staying safe was to flee,” Jameel, a father of three, told MintPress, as his family, including young children, looked on with fear. MintPress caught up with Jameel and his family as they fled along the rugged al-Rahedah road after being forced to evacuate their home in the Kreter region of Aden on Sunday. “We found no shelter except for the mountains. So we will scatter into the empty places between the rocks.” Jameel’s car was one of the dozens laden with escapees – mostly children and women – on the highway linking the Taiz and Aden governorates.
Thousands of families in Aden, Abyan and Shabwa evacuated their homes to al-Turbah districts in Taiz, al-Mahrah, Sana`a and Marib provinces to escape the mutual ethnic-cleansing campaigns being waged by forces loyal to Saudi-backed former Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC). The campaigns come amid an already acute shortage of food, clean drinking water, and medicine.
Ahmed Salem, an internally displaced Yemeni citizen (IDP), told MintPress that his home was raided and he was severely beaten in front of his four children before being given a chance to flee the city. His was one of 6,978 cases of grave human rights violations committed by pro -UAE forces against civilians in the southern Yemeni provinces of Aden, Abyan and Shabwah during the month of August, according to the Yemeni American Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights, an independent human-rights group.
That figure was confirmed by the Amsterdam-based human-rights group Rights Radar, which said in a statement that pro-UAE forces had carried out a campaign of mass arrests and attacks on civilians:
Field monitors of Rights Radar said that Aden has witnessed a campaign of mass arrests and home attacks committed by the militants of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council against the local residents for political reasons since August 10.”
However, a number of IDPs were not as lucky as Ahmed Salem and were killed while fleeing, while other families were trapped in their homes by fighting, unable to secure food and without medical aid and clean water. “It’s total chaos here. There was fighting in the city all day yesterday. Things appear to have calmed down a bit this morning, but we expect the hostilities to resume at any point,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Programme Manager Caroline Seguin said in a statement. Fighting has since resumed since Seguin’s statement was made. In fact, in just one day, 51 people were killed, 10 of them already dead by the time they reached the hospital, according to MSF.
Saudi, UAE proxies take turns killing Yemeni civilians
According to witness testimony given to MintPress, after Saudi-backed militants pulled out of Aden, forces from the STC began to raid homes, hotels, businesses and popular neighborhoods, and arrested scores of pro-Hadi activists, politicians and clerics belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, accusing them of terrorism. Dozens were killed, dragged onto the streets in scenes reminiscent of those during ISIS takeovers of cities in Syria and Iraq.
In early August, pro-UAE troops managed to capture Aden, Abyan and Shabwah from pro-Saudi forces, but those same Saudi-backed forces were able to reclaim the three provinces is a series of violent clashes on August 28 that left 200 people dead. The UAE-backed STC immediately rebounded the next day, supported by UAE warplanes, fully recapturing Aden. Amidst the tit-for-tat, pro-Saudi forces reportedly killed off dozens of pro-UAE civilians and deported others from the city, according to independent southern activists who spoke to MintPress.
Attacks on civilians have also extended to detainees, hospital patients, travelers and hotel guests. Pro-Saudi detainees and wounded persons in hospitals were executed when “a group belonging to the Security Belt forces stormed homes belonging to the Hadi government in Dar Saad, Kreter districts, and Zenjebar and killed many pro-Saudi [people],” according to witnesses who spoke to MintPress.
Tensions between pro-Saudi forces and pro-UAE forces came to a head when both sides began launching attacks against the other last month. On Thursday, UAE warplanes pounded positions of Saudi mercenaries in the Alam area at the eastern entrance of Aden, killing and injuring more than 300 fighters and forcing Islah and other militias from the Abyan and Hadi tribes, who had entered the port city a day earlier, to withdraw.
Exiled former Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi slammed the UAE’s attacks against “his forces.” His office said in a statement on Thursday:
We were shocked by the UAE’s air raids against citizens and members of our national army amid populated neighborhoods across the temporary capital Aden, which led forces to withdraw from the Aden province.”
The UAE has labeled pro-Hadi groups as terrorist militias, saying that the precise and direct airstrikes that hit Saudi mercenaries were carried out in “self-defense after attacks by armed groups affiliated with terrorist organizations.”
The recent clashes are not the first time the two sides have engaged in deadly fighting. Three days of battles in January killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds in Aden. According to Yemenis in Aden, the victims of the fighting are always Yemeni, not citizens or soldiers from Saudi Arabia or the UAE, and are part of a larger Saudi-UAE strategy to keep Yemen divided.
The attack in the Alam area was not the only escalation against pro-Hadi forces from the Islah Party. On Sunday, the UAE carried out seven airstrikes on a jail in Dhamar where prisoners of war were being held, killing more than 80 and wounding 100 others who were supposed to be part of a local prisoner swap, according to the head of Yemen’s National Committee for Prisoners Affairs (ICRC) Abdul Qader al-Mortada. Al-Mortada said that the “ICRC visited the location several times” and that “the detention facility is known to Coalition [forces] as a place for captured [Muslim] Brotherhood fighters fighting alongside the Coalition.”
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Saudi Arabia reportedly used a double-tap airstrike in the attack, significantly increasing the number of civilian casualties, as rescuers who rushed to help the victims of the first airstrike were again targeted by a subsequent Saudi strike. The deadly tactic has been used by the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen in attacks on a funeral hall, markets, a restaurant, a mosque and residential areas.
For its part, the Coalition claimed in a statement on Sunday that its aerial assault on Dhamar had targeted a military site belonging to the Houthis — saying, “Houthi fighters had stored drones and air defense systems at the site” — yet there was no evidence of weapons recovered from the site of the attack.
Saudi airstrikes also killed more than 100 pro-Saudi prisoners of war in the Kitaff district, north of Sadaa, including 20 Saudi troops in three airstrikes on Saturday.
The Coalition opens a new social media battlefront
Pro-Saudi social media users launched an unprecedented attack on the UAE government following the recent hostilities, urging Saudi Arabia to expel the Emiratis from the Coalition. Activists said it was necessary to break up the partnership with the UAE and refrain from remaining silent on its abuses against the “legitimacy of Hadi,” on whose behalf the Coalition launched its war on Yemen. Under an Arabic hashtag translated as “the expulsion of the UAE is a national demand,” mostly Saudi users slammed the UAE as traitors, demanding action against the UAE.
Any new attacks by the UAE against Saudi-backed forces in Yemen threatens to drive a wedge between the Coalition partners, as both countries share the strategic objective of keeping Yemen feeble in order to implement their own, often divergent, visions of post-war Yemen.
Yemenis who once fought alongside Saudi Arabia and the UAE are now saying what the Houthis have repeated since the war on Yemen began four years ago — that Saudi Arabia and the UAE did not go to Yemen to liberate it, but to occupy its islands and ports and to steal its fortunes; that the Coalition has not treated its allies as partners, but as followers; that it did not support legitimacy but instead supported separatists. It did not guarantee the unity of Yemen but divided it. It has not reinforced security but rather chaos.
Indeed, the latest fighting could spark a civil war, turning southern Yemen into a new battlefield, which will inevitably worsen the humanitarian situation in the country, where civilians throughout Yemen are already suffering from a lack of basic services, worsening economic crisis, and a collapsed healthcare and education system. Certainly, the displaced are the first to suffer in this situation.
For their part, the Houthis commented on the new developments by saying, “These events prove the strategic mistake other Yemeni groups have committed when they called for foreign Saudi and UAE intervention in Yemen.”
The rift, which continues to widen, between Coalition partners and their former allies has served the Houthis, the main force resisting the Coalition since it began its war on Yemen in 2015. The group has seen an unprecedented rise in its popularity amid large withdrawals of former pro- Saudi and -Hadi troops from battlefields in Yemen, especially those near the border.
Today, the situation in Yemen’s south remains extremely fluid, and both sides say they are now in control of different areas. But what is certain is that a new front has opened in Yemen, forcing thousands of families to open new chapters in the tragic stories of Yemen’s displacement and suffering.
“Was it necessary to reach this conclusion so that we [could] know the alien does not liberate our land but invade it?” a mother who fled the clashes in the Dar Sa’d district asked. Until recently, she used to raise images of Saudi King Salman at every pro-Coalition demonstration.
Feature photo | A Yemeni southern separatist fighter inspects the wreckage of government forces vehicles destroyed by UAE airstrikes near Aden, Yemen, Aug. 30, 2019. Wail al-Qubaty | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media