The United Nations warned on Sunday that Yemen's conflict could become an "Iraq-Libya-Syria" scenario if either side pushes for control of the country, prompting the U.N. Security Council to threaten further measures if the hostilities do not end.
The violence has been spreading across the Arabian peninsula country since last year when the Houthi militia seized the capital Sanaa and effectively removed President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is now seeking a comeback.
U.N. mediator Jamal Benomar briefed the 15-member Security Council in an emergency session on Sunday and said Yemen had been pushed "towards the edge of civil war."
"It would be an illusion to think that the Houthis could mount an offensive and succeed in taking control of the entire country," Benomar said via video link from Doha, the capital of Qatar. "It would be equally false to think that President Hadi could assemble sufficient forces to liberate the country from the Houthis.
"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," he said.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the takeover of much of Yemen and its institutions by the Shia Muslim Houthis, urged them to withdraw, stated its support for Hadi and demanded an end to the hostilities in a statement adopted on Sunday.
The statement also threatened "to take further measures against any party" to the conflict in Yemen. In November, the council imposed sanctions on Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and two Houthi leaders.
Yemen's Houthi rebels have seized parts of the city of Taiz and its airport and are pushing to seize more territory across the country, as the United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the crisis.
The rebels were pushing south to the city of Aden, where Hadi has set up his administration. The Houthis took over the capital, Sanaa, in September and put him under house arrest in February. As the rebels dissolved parliament, Hadi fled to Aden, Yemen's economic center, declaring it the temporary capital with the support of most of the international community.
On Saturday, Hadi accused the Shia Houthi fighters, who are allied with Iran, of staging a coup against him and appealed to the United Nations for “urgent intervention,” even as the United States evacuated its remaining forces.
Hadi called on the rebels to pull their forces out of state ministries, return weapons seized from the army and quit the capital, Sanaa. He appealed to the 15-member body for assistance “in all available means to stop this aggression.”
Yemen has been hurtling toward civil war since last year, when the Houthis seized Sanaa and advanced into Sunni Muslim areas, taking control of nine of the country’s 21 provinces and energizing a southern separatist movement. Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in 2012, is allied with the Houthi rebels.
Hadi sounded a defiant note from his base in the south on Saturday, threatening action against the Houthis’ northern stronghold. "We shall deliver the country to safety and raise Yemen's flag on Mount Marran in Saadeh instead of the Iranian flag," he said in a televised speech, his first since reaching Aden.
The Houthis, in a statement from their Supreme Revolutionary Committee, did not directly respond to the speech but called for a “general mobilization” of the armed forces against a “dirty war” that they said was being waged by fighters loyal to Hadi.
Fighting is spreading across Yemen. Unidentified warplanes have bombed Hadi's Aden headquarters in recent days, and 137 people were killed on Friday in the bombings of two Shia mosques in Sanaa. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for that attack.
U.S. interests in Yemen are focused on its fight against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, and the U.S. recognizes Hadi as Yemen’s leader.
The last major U.S. military contingent in Yemen had been stationed at the Annad air base in the south, national security sources told Reuters. On Friday, Al-Qaeda fighters seized control of the southern provincial capital of al-Houta in the group's most dramatic land grab in years, close to the air base, the center point of U.S. military efforts in the country.
U.S. officials on Saturday said Washington had evacuated its remaining personnel from Yemen, including about 100 special operations forces, because of deteriorating security.
Saturday night, a security official in Aden said a military transport plane from Oman also evacuated 16 British military and security forces.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said that all remaining U.S. staff had been “temporarily relocated” but insisted that Washington would “continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and ... take action to disrupt continuing, imminent threats to the United States.”
Washington for years has been waging a campaign of drone strikes against suspected Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. U.S. officials say the unmanned aircraft fly out of a base in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Al Jazeera and wire services