Al-Qaeda confirms retreat from Yemeni port city of Mukalla

Yemeni loyalist forces gather at the scene of an Al-Qaeda suicide attack in Aden on April 28 following the capture by government forces of the southeastern port city of Mukalla and the nearby airport and oil facilities from the jihadists. (AFP)
Updated 30 April 2016
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Al-Qaeda confirms retreat from Yemeni port city of Mukalla

DOHA, Qatar: Yemen’s Al-Qaeda branch on Saturday confirmed it had withdrawn from the Yemeni seaport of Mukalla a week after government and Emirati soldiers seized the city used by Islamist militants to amass a fortune amid the chaos of civil war.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said it had retreated from the port on Yemen’s south coast to save it from destruction and that a handful of its fighters had been killed.
The group said in a rare statement posted on Twitter that the withdrawal was meant to prevent government forces from moving the battle to their supporter's homes, markets, roads and mosques.
Around 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops advanced into Mukalla last Sunday, local officials and residents said, taking control of its maritime port and airport and meeting little resistance.
Mukalla has been the center of a rich mini-state along the Arabian Sea coastline that AQAP built up over the past year as it exploited conflict between government loyalists backed by a Gulf Arab coalition and Houthi rebels supported by Iran.
The Gulf Arab coalition said its offensive had killed 800 Al-Qaeda fighters and several leaders.
Government and Emirati forces based in Aden, about 40km (25 miles) away, have been mounting a ground push against towns held by Al-Qaeda along Yemen’s coast.
The lightning advance is a shift in strategy for the Saudi-led coalition forces, which for over a year have focused their firepower on the Iran-allied Houthis who had seized the capital Sanaa and driven the government into exile.
The civil war has killed more than 6,200 people, displaced more than 2.5 million people and caused a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest countries.
AQAP, which has planned several foiled bombing attempts on Western-bound airliners and claimed credit for the 2015 attack at the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s offices in Paris, has sought to carve out a quasi-state last year offering to export 2 million barrels of oil with the approval of Yemen’s government, which refused.


Houthis mobilize to fight ahead of UN envoy’s visit

Pro-government drive in an industrial district in the eastern outskirts of the port city Hodeidah. (AFP)
Updated 43 min 20 sec ago
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Houthis mobilize to fight ahead of UN envoy’s visit

  • Dozens of Houthis put on a show of strength on the outskirts of Sanaa on Saturday
  • UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Friday that he plans to travel to Sanaa in the coming week

SANAA: Iran-backed Houthi militias have said they are ready to mobilize more fighters to the frontline despite a lull in battleground Hodeidah, as the UN envoy prepares to visit the country to boost peace efforts.

Dozens of Houthis put on a show of strength on the outskirts of Sanaa on Saturday, apparently getting ready to head toward Hodeidah, a Red Sea city home to a vital port.

Men, some of whom looked very young, were lining up with bandoliers around their shoulders and rifles in their hands, chanting Houthi slogans.

Residents said on Sunday that relative calm had held in Hodeidah city since pro-government forces announced a pause in their offensive last week amid international calls for a cease-fire and UN-led peace efforts.  They added, however, that they remain on edge.

Meanwhile, coalition fighter jets on Sunday carried out a series of strikes targeting Houthi positions west of Marib. The strikes, which were accompanied by shelling, came after the Iranian-supported militia launched ballistic missiles toward the city of Marib. Coalition forces successfully intercepted the missiles, Yemeni army media said.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Friday that he plans to travel to Sanaa in the coming week to finalize arrangements for peace talks to take place in Sweden soon.

Hameed Assem, a member of the militia delegation expected to take part in the negotiations, said that Houthis will continue to mobilize if UN efforts for peace fail to materialize.

Pro-government forces on Wednesday suspended their 12-day offensive in Hodeidah.

Griffiths said on Friday that both the government and the Houthis have shown a “renewed commitment” to work on a political solution and have given “firm assurances” that they will attend the talks. No date has yet been set.

(AFP)