Yemen’s southern separatists took control of all government military camps in Aden on Saturday, an official said, as fighting raged between nominal allies who have turned on each other, complicating U.N. efforts to end a devastating war.
Battles had resumed at dawn, marking a fourth straight day of clashes between the separatists and government forces in the port city that is temporarily hosting Yemen’s internationally-recognized authorities.
At least eight civilians were killed on Friday, medical sources said.
The combatants are both part of the Saudi-led pro-government military coalition that has been battling the Iran-aligned armed Houthi movement in Yemen since March 2015. The war has killed tens of thousands and pushed the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation to the brink of famine.
Saturday’s clashes initially centered on the all-but empty presidential palace in the predominantly residential Crater district, near Aden International Airport and in a neighborhood where Interior Minister Ahmed al-Mayssari lives, residents said.
The separatists also took over his house, which he had already vacated, officials said.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said the battles had trapped civilians in their homes with dwindling supplies of food and water. The aid group said prolonged fighting in Aden, a gateway for commercial and aid supplies, could impact efforts to tackle the humanitarian crisis gripping the rest of the country.
The clashes began on Wednesday after the separatists accused an Islamist party allied to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi of complicity in a missile attack on a military parade, one of three separate attacks that targeted southern forces.
The separatists and Hadi’s government are nominally united in their battle against the Houthis, who removed Hadi from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014, but they have rival agendas for Yemen’s future.
The United Arab Emirates, a member of the Saudi coalition but backing the separatists, said all efforts should focus on defeating the Houthis, and called for an end to the escalation in Aden.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed called on U.N. special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths “to deploy efforts and exert pressure” to that purpose.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had on Saturday urged the parties to cease hostilities and engage in “inclusive dialogue”.
The United Nations is trying to de-escalate tensions countrywide as it tries to implement a peace deal in the main port city of Hodeidah further to the north, to pave the way for wider political talks to end the war.
Separately, the Houthis’ Al-Masirah TV quoted a military spokesman as saying the group had launched a drone attack against Saudi Arabia’s civilian Abha airport, targeting the fuel depot and control tower. Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV said air traffic at the airport was normal.
The Houthis, who have stepped up cross-border missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia, control Sanaa, Hodeidah and other major urban centers while Hadi’s government holds Aden and a string of western coastal towns.
The Yemen conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny being puppets of Tehran and say their revolution is against corruption.
The UAE scaled down its military presence in Yemen in June amid pressure from Western allies to end the war and concerns about rising tensions with Iran in the Gulf.