THU 6 - 8 - 2020
Date: Aug 26, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Yemen forces battle separatists near southern city, nine dead
SANAA/CAIRO: Yemeni officials said clashes between government forces and separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates have killed at least nine people. Government forces of Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi took full control of the southern city of Ataq, the capital of oil-rich Shabwa province, following clashes with a UAE-trained militia known as the Elite Force.

Sunday’s fighting unfolded around 30 kilometers south of Ataq.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media, say another 13 people were wounded Sunday.

The Elite Force is part of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, which launched an offensive earlier this month to take strategic southern areas from government forces, including the city of Aden and nearby Abyan province.

Ahmed al-Horr, a spokesperson for the UAE-backed militia, said it was preparing to attack Ataq after reinforcements arrived from neighboring provinces.

The government and the UAE are part of an Arab coalition that has been battling Iran-backed rebels since 2015. But in recent weeks an internal rivalry has boiled over, leading to clashes across the south.

Forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government Saturday took control of a headquarters and at least three military camps from the separatists in and outside a key southern city.

After Ataq was seized, government forces attacked military camps of the Elite Force west of the city, seizing control of three camps and the militia headquarters, according to statement from Hadi’s government.

Military officials said government forces have started to fortify the city and set up checkpoints on the major roads outside Ataq. The city previously was divided between Hadi’s forces and the militia.

Meanwhile, military officials said armed men attacked a convoy of another UAE-trained militia known as the Security Belt, in Mahfad district in the province of Abyan, as they were heading to Ataq to aid their allies there.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the officials said it was likely carried out by Al-Qaeda militants.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Mahfad is a stronghold for militants from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the most dangerous branch of the terror network, and Daesh’s (ISIS) Yemen offshoot. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to the media, while the residents spoke anonymously, fearing reprisal.

In other developments, a military spokesperson for the Houthis told Al-Masirah TV the rebel group launched drone attacks Sunday on Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport and the air base of Khamis Mushait.

The spokesperson said the drones attacked the control towers at the two sites, both located in the southwest of the kingdom. There was no confirmation from Saudi authorities.

The Houthis, who control the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, have stepped up their attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia in the past few months.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis has targeted military sites belonging to the group, especially around Sanaa, in response.

The escalation in violence threatens a U.N.-sponsored deal for a cease-fire and troop withdrawal from the flashpoint coastal city of Hodeidah, which became the focus of the war last year when the coalition tried to seize its port.

The port is the Houthis’ main supply line and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.

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