Wael Qubady / AP

Yemen's Houthi fighters pull back in central Aden, officials say

While Saudi-supported Yemeni troops airdropped weapons and ammunition to supporters of President Hadi

Yemen’s Houthi fighters and their allies have pulled back from the central Aden district of Crater after overnight clashes with gunmen loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, residents and local officials said Friday.

Residents told Reuters the Houthis had withdrawn to the Khor Maksar neighborhood after one of their tanks was destroyed and another taken over by Hadi loyalists.

Political analysts said the offensive was never expected to hold. 

”It was just a gimmick, and they were never going to be there for a long time,” Muhamed Qubaty, a former political adviser to Yemeni government, told Al Jazeera. “The bigger issue is the continued suffering of the civilians,” Qubaty added.

Aden is the last stronghold of fighters loyal to Hadi, who fled the country for Saudi Arabia eight days ago. Houthis have continued to make gains despite more than a week of Saudi-led air strikes against them, though they have faced occasional reverses. Al Jazeera sources said Friday that Yemeni troops airdropped weapons and ammunition for Hadi's supporters and fighters.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is trying to reassert Hadi's authority as a prelude to political negotiations, has repeatedly said that sending ground troops into Yemen remains an option but not an automatic move.

Tribal sources in Yemen told Reuters on Friday that Saudi Arabia had started to remove parts of a fence along its border with the northwestern Yemeni provinces of Saada and Hajja.

This could be the start to an incursion by ground troops, but may also be part of more modest efforts to secure the frontier area, which on some stretches includes a buffer zone between the two countries.

U.S. government sources said Thursday that, although Washington believes Saudi Arabia and its allies have deployed a military force along the border that is large enough to launch a full-scale invasion, there was no indication that Riyadh was planning any such invasion soon.

The war with the Houthis is now the biggest of several conflicts being fought out in Yemen, which is also grappling with a southern secessionist movement, tribal unrest and Al-Qaeda’s most powerful regional franchise.

Suspected Al-Qaeda fighters stormed a jail in the city of Mukalla on Thursday, freeing at least 150 prisoners, residents said.

The Sunni Al-Qaeda fighters are viscerally opposed to the Houthis, who are drawn from a Zaydi Shia minority that ruled a thousand-year kingdom in northern Yemen until 1962.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh himself is a member of the sect but fought to crush the Houthis as president. Huge street demonstrations in 2011 linked to wider Arab uprisings forced him to step down, but he has re-emerged as an influential force by allying himself with the Houthis, his former enemies.

The civil war in Yemen has forced many countries to evacuate their citizens. China, which had already pulled its nationals out of Yemen, sent a frigate Thursday to rescue 255 people from 10 different countries from Aden.

This was the first time that China's military has helped other countries evacuate their people during an international crisis.

Turkey said on Friday a naval frigate had evacuated 55 Turkish citizens from Aden. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara could give logistical and intelligence support, but that it wanted to see a political solution.

Saudi Arabia says it has support from four other Gulf Arab states as well as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan, though it has not spelled out the support they have provided.

Al Jazeera and Reuters 

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Middle East, Yemen

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