AL-MUKALLA: Heavy fighting broke out on Monday in south Yemen as government forces launched an offensive to recapture areas controlled by the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) including the port city of Aden, local military commanders and official media said.
The attack began in the morning when government tanks and heavy weapons shelled separatists in areas outside Zinjibar town, the capital of Abyan province, to pave the way for the advance of a convoy of military vehicles.
“We launched an offensive under the command of the Ministry of Defense and our military commanders aimed at liberating Aden and other southern provinces from the militias,” a local military commander, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News.
As tanks departed their positions in Abyan’s Shouqra, fighting erupted when separatists set up ambushes and launched rocket-propelled grenades to prevent government forces from advancing.
The government commander admitted that their forces had faced booby traps and landmines that blew up some military equipment and injured a number of soldiers. “We are now dealing with a huge number of landmines planted by separatists that slowed down our advance. But the offensive is moving according to plan.”
Shortly after the beginning of the government offensive, the STC leader, Aidarous Al-Zubaidi, gave a speech in which he ordered his troops to defend their territories and push back the offensive. “Be ready and decisive in the face of the brutal aggression,” he said.
The council’s spokesperson, Nizar Haytham, told Arab News that its forces had repelled the offensive after destroying several military vehicles and capturing a number of soldiers.
“This is unjustified war on the south from the terrorist militia of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our forces managed to foil that offensive and defeated these terrorist militias,” he said.
Last month, tensions escalated between the internationally–recognized government and the STC when separatists announced a self-rule initiative, allowing them to expel the government from Aden and unilaterally rule the strategic city and collect revenues from its seaport and other important money-making government bodies.
The government swiftly described the declaration as a “coup” and demanded the council to positively respond to the international community’s condemnation of the move.
A power-sharing deal signed last year temporarily defused tension between both sides as a Saudi-led military committee withdrew heavy weapons from Aden and secured the return of the government.
The escalation in fighting in the south is expected to worsen the humanitarian situation in Aden after the government on Monday declared a surge in the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and other fatal diseases in the city.
Chaired by Yemeni Prime Minister Dr. Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, the Aden-based national coronavirus committee declared Aden an infested city in dire need of humanitarian assistance after a field report showed COVID-19 cases had jumped to 35, including four deaths, and last month’s flash floods produced an outbreak of other diseases associated with the heavy rains.
Health officials said dozens of people had died of dengue fever, chikungunya, and other “ambiguous” illnesses over the last couple of weeks.