Separatists in Yemen have regained full control of the country’s interim capital, Aden, after they were able to push back troops from the UN-recognised government’s forces, officials from both sides said.
“The Security Belt force completely controls the city of Aden along with its entrances,” Haitham Nezar, a spokesman for the United Arab Emirate (UAE)-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), told AFP news agency on Thursday.
AFP said a government security source also confirmed that Aden was now under the control of the STC, saying government troops who entered parts of the city on Wednesday “withdrew from Aden” to the nearby Abyan province.
On Wednesday, the internationally-recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi claimed it had seized Aden back from the separatists, who had captured the strategic city on August 10 after a fierce battle.
Nezar said the Security Belt forces are now setting their sights on Abyan and Shabwa provinces which had been retaken the government troops earlier this week.
“Aden is fine,” STC Vice President Hani bin Breik wrote on Twitter on Thursday, as he posted pictures of himself and other southern leaders touring the streets of the city including the airport, while warning fleeing government loyalists of punishment.
‘Clashes still going on’
However, a Yemeni journalist in Aden, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said clashes between government forces and the STC are still ongoing in Aden.
“It is a matter of time before the government forces take control over all of Aden,” he said.
Doha-based Yemeni political analyst, Saeed Thabit, also told Al Jazeera that fighting between government forces and the southern separatists is not over.
“No party at this point has a decisive victory over the other,” he said.
Thabit said both sides are mobilising their forces and bringing in troops and heavy weapons for the battle to control Aden.
“The battle for Aden is complicated as the battle lines are shifting back and forth by the hour,” he said.
Thabit said while the government forces took control of parts of Aden, other areas such as Buraiqah – where the Arab coalition has a military base – Muaala and Tawahi were still under the control of the UAE and its allied fighters.
New front in Yemen war
The fighting in recent weeks between Hadi’s forces and separatists in Yemen has threatened to open a new front in the complex war in the Arab world’s most impoverished country. The two sides are nominal allies in a Saudi-UAE-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels who control the country’s north.
Catherine Shakdam, head of the Yemen department at London-based think-tank, Next Century Foundation, told Al Jazeera that the separatists will remain in control of Aden due to a weak Hadi-backed government.
“I think, realistically, that it is very likely that the secessionists will remain in control of the seaport Aden. It is, after all, a stronghold of the secessionist movement, and has been for many decades now.”
Shakdam said the weakening of the Hadi-backed government and the advancement of Houthi rebels have emboldened the separatists, who realise it “is an opportunity they cannot miss”.
She said the situation is complicated for the Saudis and the UAE, who back the separatists in the south, but also for the Houthis, who previously supported a partition of the country, but “no longer believe there should be two Yemens”.