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Militia Forces Loyal to Yemen's President Battle Houthis in Aden

Forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who remains cornered in his home, seized several strategic areas of Aden Monday from the insurgent group.

by Liz Fields
Feb 16 2015, 7:20pm

Photo by Anees Mahyoub/AP

Government-backed militias retook several key buildings in the southern Yemen seaport town of Aden on Monday from Shia Houthi militia. The clashes were the latest in the country's escalating civil war, which has thrown the fragile nation into chaos, allowing violence to thrive and extremist organization to take advantage of the political vacuum.

Following five hours of fighting today, forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said they gained control of the city's primary power station and intelligence headquarters, among other strategic buildings, from the rebel group that has been fighting for greater autonomy for more than a year in the country's north.

Security forces also took the local television station and a trade building, unnamed sources in the Popular Committees of Aden told Reuters. Hadi's brother, Nasser, the Popular Committees is led by Hadi's brother. Three fighters were reportedly killed in the fray, the sources said.

Aden's governor confirmed that the fighting had occurred, but said fighters associated with Hadi had not gained control of the television network.

Yemen's president resigns during standoff with Houthi rebels. Read more here.

After months of growing separatist unrest, Houthis overran the capital of Sana'a last September, pressing the United Nations to broker a deal to establish a new government in November that would undertake to write a new constitution that would include several concessions to the rebel group.

Violence persisted as ongoing talks failed to yield compromises amenable to both parties and the takeover of Sana'a was all but completed last month after the group raided the presidential palace, where Hadi remains holed up.

Hadi tended his resignation after the takeover, but remains Yemen's de jure leader until parliament accepts his resignation. The rebel group has separately dissolved parliament and declared Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the cousin of rebel leader Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, as the country's new president — a move that received international condemnation.

A political vacuum remains as the death toll rises from battles between Houthis and government loyalists, and negotiations for new leadership and presidential council are ongoing. On Saturday, tens of thousands protested the Houthi takeover across Yemen, includng in Sana'a and the cities of Ibb, Taiz, Hodeida, and Dhamar.

A day later, the UN Security Council called for the insurgents to relinquish power and release Hadi from house arrest. Fifteen council members voted to adopt a resolution Sunday urging the group to return to the negotiating table in "good faith," as well as "withdraw their forces from government institutions" and "relinquish government and security institutions."

Shia Houthi rebels attack Yemen president's residence amid suspected coup. Read more here.

Meanwhile both Turkey and Japan shuttered their embassies Monday, adding to the growing list of foreign countries pulling their diplomats and staff from the unstable area. Yemen's al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other al Qaeda-affiliated insurgents in the country have also seized on the crisis and Hadi's withdrawal to reinforce deadly attacks against security forces and rebels. AQAP has promised to defend Sunnis from the Houthis.

Neighboring Gulf and Arab nations have further denounced the Houthi takeover as a "terrorist act" and a "coup against legitimacy." Six countries in the largely Sunni Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) warned that if the UN failed to adopt a resolution over the weekend that would allow military intervention, then the GCC member states may be forced to intervene with its own measures.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates made the statement in a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Saturday evening.

Despite the UN resolution calling on member states to "refrain from external interference which seeks to foment conflict and instability," reports have emerged that GCC countries, concerned that the escalating Iranian-backed rebel takeover of Yemen could further destabilize the region, are already supporting government-allied and other militias to fight the rebel group.

Yemen officials told the Associated Press that Saudi Arabia has been supplying arms to anti-rebel tribesmen in the central-west. Egyptian officials told the agency an Egypt-Saudi special rapid deployment force has been assembled and is ready for deployment in the event the Houthis move to disrupt shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Video shows Yemen's 'step toward a coup' in fierce fighting between rebel and government forces. Read more here.

VICE News' John Beck and Kayla Ruble contributed to this report.