Yemen Conflict: U.N. Warns of Move Toward Civil War as Rebels Seize Central City

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Houthi fighters opposed to Yemen’s president took over the central city of Taiz in an escalation of a power struggle that diplomats say risks drawing in neighboring oil giant Saudi Arabia and its main regional rival, Iran.

Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, head of the powerful Shiite Muslim group, vowed to pursue Sunni militants behind suicide attacks on Houthi supporters and said the poor Arabian peninsula country was in danger of descending into Libya-style turmoil.

In a live televised speech, Houthi said his decision to mobilize fighters amid accelerating violence in recent days was aimed at ISIS, which claimed responsibility for bombings that killed more than 130 in the capital, Sanaa, on Friday, and al Qaeda.

Conflict has been spreading across Yemen since last year, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and effectively removed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who now seeks a comeback from his base in Aden.

Residents of Taiz, on a main road from Sanaa to the country’s second city, Aden, said Houthi militias took over the city's military airport without a struggle late on Saturday. Witnesses in the central province of Ibb reported seeing dozens of tanks and military vehicles headed southward from Houthi-controlled areas toward Taiz, while activists in the city said Houthi gunmen shot into the air to disperse protests by residents demonstrating against their presence.

The U.N. mediator on Yemen said on Sunday that recent events “seem to be leading Yemen further away from a peaceful settlement and towards the edge of civil war.”

Saying it was illusory to think Houthi militia could take over all of Yemen or that Hadi could assemble enough troops to take back the country, mediator Jamal Benomar told the Security Council: "Any side that would want to push the country in either direction would be inviting a protracted conflict in the vein of an Iraq-Libya-Syria combined scenario."

The Security Council condemned the takeover of much of Yemen and its institutions by the Houthis and warned of "further measures" if hostilities did not end.

IN-DEPTH

— Reuters

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