Saudi Arabia and the UAE helped broker a truce between warring factions in the area after heavily armed militiamen seized a local military barracks sparking clashes that killed 38 and injured more than 200.
The assault by the rebels of the Southern Transitional Council targeted government soldiers loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and left the two sides, who are both part of the Saudi-led coalition in the wider war against Iranian-backed Houthis, facing off against each other on the city’s streets.
After several days of intense combat, the fighters appeared to be on the verge of capturing the presidential palace.
But as a new round of clashes seemed set to erupt this week, the main countries of the coalition intervened to broker a cease-fire and prevented further bloodshed, Yemeni soldiers and civilians told the Arab News.
An uneasy truce now exists in Aden, bringing a semblance of normality back to a city that has long been central to the fluctuating conflict.
Mohammed Khalil, a 22-year-old university student, described how the fighting had damaged buildings and sent terrified families running from their homes. Just as he was also about to join the exodus from his neighborhood, however, the violence stopped.
“Last week was horrible. I had decided to to flee the city for a safer area but the Saudi-led coalition intervened just in time to stop the clashes,” he said.
As the de-facto center of government for President Hadi, Aden has played a key role in the civil war that has torn Yemen apart since 2015. The conflict began when the Houthi-led militiamen and forces loyal to the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the national capital Sanaa and tried to remove Hadi from power.
When the fighting spread to Aden, Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in an effort to protect the Hadi government and the Houthis were pushed back in the summer of 2015.
The situation in Aden remained volatile and the coalition and their Yemeni allies have had to confront a series of attacks and assassinations in the city carried out by extremist groups taking advantage of the conflict.
The city has also traditionally been the center of support for the Southern Movement, which calls for a separate state in Yemen’s south. The recent fighting was sparked when government forces tried to prevent a rally calling for the restoration of South Yemen, which was an independent country until 1990.
Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher appealed on Wednesday for reconciliation with the separatists, whose fighters still control much of the city and large areas of nearby provinces.
“The mission today is to bridge the gap, heal the wounds and abandon political escalation,” Dagher told a Cabinet meeting.
Aden was already heavily damaged when the Houthi militias attacked the city in 2015 and residents are desperate not to see similar scenes again.
Saeed Bamashmoos, 34, who works at the Al-Shorooq Exchange Company in Al-Muallah district, said things had improved this week in the city after the fighting.
“By dialogue, people can discuss and solve their disagreements and not by force. Force is not a solution at all, so I hope that the sides use dialogue instead of arms,” he told Arab News.
Fighters on either side also said they did not want to clash again with each other while they are meant to be fighting against the Houthis.
Mohammed Al-Qirbi, 26, a captain with the forces of the Southern Transitional Council said when they arrived at the presidential palace in Aden, they received orders that forbid them from storming the building.
Al-Qirbi said many fighter’s from Hadi’s presidential forces surrendered rather than fighting.
“I am very sad about our colleagues who were killed in these clashes,” Al-Qirbi said, adding that he hoped fighting in Aden would not resume. Sergeant Salem Al-Lawdari, 33, a sergeant in Hadi’s presidential forces was arrested amid clashes in the Crater area but released the next day. He told Arab News that they did not want to kill any of the southern separatist fighters.
“We were shooting in the air to avoid killing our colleagues, and then the president Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition directed us to stop fighting so fighters withdrew from battles and returned their barracks,” Al-Lawdari said.
Abdurrahman Al-Naqeeb, a spokesman for Aden’s police, said: “The coalition called on all sides in Aden to calm and all sides welcomed this plea.”
The casualties add to the more than 10,000 people killed in nearly three years of war in Yemen.