UN sets emergency Yemen meeting as US withdraws

In wake of mosque attacks and ongoing violence across the country, UN Security Council agrees to meet on Sunday.

US embassy Sanaa Yemen
The US embassy in Sanaa was already shut last month during an exodus of foreign diplomats from the capital over the worsening security situation [EPA]

The United Nations Security Council has announced it will hold an emergency meeting on violence-wracked Yemen, diplomats said, after US troops were evacuated from a key airbase.

The meeting will take place at the request of embattled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, amid spiralling violence, after several suicide bombings at Shia Houthi mosques killed at least 137 people on Friday.

The meeting was announced by the UN as US troops, who conducted counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups, were leaving the al-Anad airbase in Lahj province on Saturday citing security concerns.

In a statement, the US State Department said: “Due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the US Government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen.  

“We will continue to engage the Yemeni people and the international community to strongly support Yemen’s political transition.”

Saturday’s evacuation came a day after suicide bombers, reportedly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), killed at least 137 worshippers and wounded hundreds more at two mosques in the capital Sanaa.

Washington, which considers Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) one of the most dangerous wings of al-Qaeda, had lent financial and logistical support to Yemen’s government in combatting the armed group.

Hadi, who has since fled the capital to the southern port city of Aden, has been a vocal supporter of the US war against al-Qaeda, at one point saying he approved each US drone strike.

RELATED: Yemen strife threatens neighbours too

The UN spokesperson’s office said in an email late on Saturday that the UN Security Council will hold a closed emergency session on the Yemen crisis on Sunday afternoon at 3pm local time (1900 GMT).

The meeting will allow the envoys of the 15 member countries to hear an update on the situation on the ground, likely to be made by UN Special Adviser Jamal Benomar, who has tried to mediate the conflict for several months.

Representatives from Yemen and Qatar will also speak before the council meets behind closed doors.

‘Iranian influence’

Saturday’s US withdrawal comes as Hadi made his first televised speech since escaping house arrest, pledging to fight what he called Iranian influence.

Accusing Tehran of backing the Houthis who drove him out of Sanaa, the embattled president vowed that “the Yemeni republic flag will fly on the Marran mountain in Saada [the Houthis northern stronghold] instead of the Iranian flag”.

Iran has been repeatedly accused of backing the fighters who belong to the Zaydi sect of Shia Islam, but the Houthis insist that the Islamic Republic does not meddle in Yemeni affairs.

Hadi also called on the Houthis to leave the capital and for its allied militias to quit government ministries. He denounced the Houthis as “coup plotters” and said he wanted to confront sectarianism.

Meanwhile, the Houthis called for an offensive against security and military institutions controlled by Hadi describing it as a battle against extremists. 

RELATED: The rise of the Houthis

Yemen has descended into chaos since the 2012 ousting of longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh, with security having broken down since Houthis swept unopposed into the capital last year.

An ISIL affiliated group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks on Twitter, threatening that the bombings were “only a part of the coming flood”.

The Houthis, who are considered heretics by ISIL and al-Qaeda, descended from their heartland in Saada last year, fighting their way towards Sanaa and defeating tribal and military rivals along the way.

Earlier this year, they put Hadi, the elected president, under house arrest, disbanded parliament and appointed Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a cousin of the group’s leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, as the new president.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies