Yemen’s Houthi Rebels Seize Control of Cabinet OfficesMohammed Hatem and Glen Carey
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have seized security and government buildings in the capital, Sana’a, said they signed an accord with the government to resolve a weeks-old crisis that threatens to ignite civil war.
The agreement was signed by all political parties, according to Ali al-Emad, a Houthi leader, who spoke by phone today without providing details. Al Jazeera television, citing United Nations envoy Jamal Benomar, said the parties agreed to appoint a new prime minister in three days and form a new government in a month. Fighting across the capital subsided.
The Shiite Muslim Houthis started protests weeks ago and positioned arms and personnel on the outskirts of Sana’a to pressure President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi to dissolve his cabinet and rescind a decision to raise fuel prices. With Hadi failing to resolve the crisis, the Houthis advanced from the capital’s outskirts toward the center of the city, battling the army and capturing key buildings.
Deteriorating security across a country bigger than Spain has raised the prospect of the state’s collapse along tribal and sectarian lines, and is providing a haven for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. International airlines including Dubai-based Emirates canceled flights to the capital, citing the unrest.
The Shiite rebels, named after the group’s founder Hussein al-Houthi, say they face discrimination from Yemen’s Sunni majority.
Their fight for autonomy is only one of the conflicts destabilizing Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian peninsula. The government has been fighting al-Qaeda militants, and there’s a separatist movement in the south. Popular unrest erupted in 2011, when protests drove President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power, and his successor Hadi has struggled to restore order in the nation of 25 million.
Houthi rebels were conducting patrols throughout Sana’a today and providing security in residential neighborhoods. People started returning home, where they were assessing damage to their properties caused by the clashes. Neighborhoods remained without electricity and bullet holes, and mortar-pocked buildings and charred military vehicles provided evidence of the heavy fighting.
The rebels were seen today taking heavy weapons, including tanks, from a military camp they captured yesterday. About 200 more bodies have been recovered from conflict areas in Sana’a since the fighting eased, bringing the total death toll above 300, and hospitals are treating more than 460 people injured during the fighting, the official Saba news agency said.
The accord was signed yesterday as the rebels took control of the cabinet building and the military camp guarding the state radio offices in the capital, Mohammed Abdulsalam, a spokesman for the group, said on Facebook. Rebels had already captured the state-run broadcaster’s building on Sept. 20 after shelling it for three days, and Iman University.
The school is believed to be a recruitment center for Sunni militants and is run by cleric Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, who is considered by the U.S. to be a “specially designated global terrorist,” the Associated Press reported.
The advance of the Houthis into the capital shows how the central government “has been weakened by a militia with a sectarian policy,” Majed al-Mathhaji, an independent analyst and political researcher, said by phone. “There is a clear weakness among government leaders.”
Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwah resigned yesterday, Al Jazeera reported, without saying where it got the information.