Escalating conflict: Houthis seize key provincial capital near Saudi border

Rebels see it as major victory before the start of Geneva talks.

Reuters June 14, 2015
UN chief Ban Ki-moon gestures next to the GCC secretary general and UN special envoy for Yemen at the UN offices in Geneva. PHOTO: AFP


Houthi forces and their army allies in Yemen seized the capital of a large desert province on the border with Saudi Arabia on Sunday, residents said, an important victory for the group ahead of peace talks in Geneva on Monday.

The rebels took control of alHazm, capital of the province of alJawf, amid coalition air strikes on their positions and heavy fighting with armed tribesmen.

“Houthi forces and those loyal to the former president spread out in the city and around government buildings,” a tribal source in alHazm said.

Since forming an alliance with Yemen’s still powerful former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists in the army, the Houthis have taken over the capital Sanaa and swooped into several central provinces. But their push on the country’s southernmost city and major port, Aden, triggered the regional Arab intervention on March 26, and the air campaign has brought about a virtual stalemate in ground fighting nationwide.

The Houthis deny they are supported by Iran and say their advance is a revolution against corrupt officials backed by foreign powers, while the Yemeni government exiled in Saudi Arabia says the group has usurped the state and must back down.

Houthis in Geneva talks

UN-backed talks in Geneva this week will be attended by delegations representing Hadi, Saleh and the Houthis, but analysts believe prospects are dim for a compromise as fighting rages on.

In the southern province of Dhalea near Aden, local militiamen said they were pushing Houthi forces back after ejecting them from the regional capital last month.

They added that at least 15 Houthi fighters had been killed and 70 Houthi detained in the last two days. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2015.



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