Yemen’s Houthi rebels escalate Sanaa standoff

Houthis block main road to Sanaa’s international airport, as fighting between rebels and army forces continues in north.

Yemeni soldiers erected checkpoints between a Shia protest camp and the interior ministry in Sanaa [EPA]

Tensions increased in the streets of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, as Houthi rebels escalated their standoff with the government by blocking one of the main roads to the city’s international airport. 

The protest came after clashes between Houthi rebels and Sunni tribesmen in the country’s north killed more than 70 people in the past three days, security officials and tribal leaders said on Sunday.

The latest combat took place in al-Jawf province, where Houthi rebels fought tribesmen who were backed by an army unit and allied with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islah party. Yemeni fighter jets also carried out air strikes against Houthi rebels in the area.

The officials said 18 of the Houthis and 22 of the tribesmen were killed in the battle and dozens on both sides were wounded.

The Houthis are a Shia group that takes its name from Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, their former commander.

Tribesmen have managed to take control of Houthi positions about 175km east of Sanaa, the officials added.

Civil disobedience campaign 

The Houthis have been camping for nearly three weeks in the capital near key installations, calling for the government’s removal and the reinstatement of fuel subsidies.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Sanaa, said the Houthis escalated their civil disobedience campaign because the government refused to give in to their demands.

“Today they decided to block one of the main roads that lead to the international airport of Sanaa, which is in an area where most of the government ministries are located, particularly the ministry of interior,” our correspondent said.

“We are also hearing that Houthis are planning to occupy government ministries and to block more main roads in Sanaa to completely cripple the capital.”

In a bid to end the standoff between the government and Houthis, the Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi dismissed his cabinet on Tuesday and said he would appoint a new prime minister within a week.

The move did not stop the rebels’ escalation, however. Demonstrations continued and protesters blocked major roads.

The Houthis had waged a six-year uprising in the north against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh which officially ended in 2010. After Saleh’s ouster, they fought Sunni groups in several northern cities and towns, accusing them of turning the area into incubators of extremism.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies