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Op-Ed: Forces of Saudi-supported Yemen president Hadi lose Aden airport

The seizure of the airport by Yemeni forces with the backing of those from the UAE is fueling tensions between the Saudi-backed president Hadi and the UAE’s crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi. The prince is also deputy commander of the UAE armed forces. One soldier was said to have been killed during the takeover. The UAE forces joined those of Saudi Arabia in fighting the rebel Houthis and driving them out of Aden and the surrounding areas. Also, supporters of the secessionist Southern Movement allied with pro-Hadi forces to drive out the Houthi but this has led to rival factions within Aden. The Southern Movement and its supporters appear to have the support of the UAE. Hadi returned went in exile in 2014 when Houthis seized much of the country including the capital Sanaa that they still hold.

Witnesses said rival faction traded gun and rocket fire for nearly three hours at the airport Tuesday night, although they did not mention specifically UAE forces. The UAE had controlled the airport back in February and did not allow Hadi to land forcing him to land on the island of Socotra. In a report in May Hadi accused the UAE as acting like an occupier. Hadi was successful in a second attempt to land at Aden later but fired the person who was in charge of the airport for disobeying his orders. Hadi had his forces lay siege to the airport. The Saudis intervened and were able to calm down both sides. Yet after a few weeks the UAE did not allow presidential bodyguard Brigadier General Qabati to land his plane at the airport. In response to this action president Hadi fired Aden governor al-Zubaidi and Hani bin Braik minister of state and general commander of the security belt forces run by the UAE. This move simply reinforced the breaking up of the forces that had taken Aden from the Houthis.

After the firing of al Zubaidi there were huge demonstrations against the Haidi government in Aden. Al Zubaidi set up a council of 26 members that included the governors of five provinces and even two government ministers. This council is now challenging the Hadi government for control of Aden and surrounding areas. The latest airport incident is an illustration of their challenge. The Southern Movement was willing to help Hadi oust the Houthi from the south but were often oppposed to his government when he controlled the whole country even though he himself hails from the south.

From 1967 to 1990 South Yemen was a separate country. Four years after reunification South Yemen declared its independence again only to be defeated in the subsequent civil war which the north won. However, for many years now the Southern Movement and other groups have sought more autonomy or independence for South Yemen. After having supported Hadi to rid the south of the Houthis who are a Shia group supported by Iran they are now working towards independence for the south complicating the situation for Hadi and also exhibiting divisions within the Saudi coalition. The civil war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people created a humanitarian crisis, and has been characterized by brutal bombing campaign led by Saudi Arabia that killed many civilians.

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