By Mohammed Mukhashaf
ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) – Four people were killed on Monday in a second day of fighting between rival factions seeking control of the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, where the internationally recognized administration is based, witnesses and officials said.
The clashes between southern separatists allied to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and forces loyal to Saudi-based President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi risk crippling their once united campaign against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
Witnesses reported fighting outside Yemeni government camps in the districts of Khor Maksar and Dar Saad in the north of Aden. The clashes involved tanks and heavy artillery targeting a hill, Jabal Hadeed, which overlooks Khor Maksar and Aden port.
The SABA state news agency, controlled by the Hadi government, said four people had died in Monday’s fighting, bringing the total death toll since Sunday to 16 and the number of wounded to 141.
President Hadi issued a statement ordering the military to secure the city and assuring the population that his government was capable of handling the situation.
The witnesses said forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which was formed last year to push for the revival of the former independent state of South Yemen, were apparently trying to wrest control of two bases in Aden from Prime Minister Ahmed bin Daghr’s government.
In downtown Aden, most people stayed off the streets as government forces guarded the main road to al-Maasheeq palace where the government is based.
Aden airport was closed for a second consecutive day because of the fighting, local officials said.
A government source said the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen in support of the Hadi administration should rein in the STC separatists or else the battle against the Houthis would suffer.
“The military commanders leading the battle in the western part of Yemen (against the Houthis) have given short notice to the Saudis and the UAE to intervene to end the fighting in Aden. Otherwise they will leave the battlefront and move back to Aden to assist President Hadi and the government,” the source said.
Sunday’s fighting broke out after the expiry of a deadline set last week by separatists from the STC for Hadi to dismiss the bin Daghr government, accusing it of corruption and mismanagement. The government denies the charges.
Bin Daghr has described the ultimatum as a coup against the internationally-recognized government, which the STC has accused of attacking civilians who had converged on the city’s Parades Square from across southern Yemen for a rally.
The clashes in Aden have effectively divided the city into two zones, one controlled by the STC and one by the government.
Although Hadi remains in exile in Saudi Arabia, his administration and local allies nominally control about four-fifths of Yemen’s territory.
The factional fighting in the south compounds the misery of Yemenis whose country has been torn apart by three years of conflict between Hadi’s forces and the Houthis.
(Writing by Sami Aboudi and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Gareth Jones)