Yemen in Focus: A new battle emerges in Dhale'
The deadly battles, which have been largely overlooked as the world focuses on the port city of Hodeida, have killed many fighters from both sides of the camp, after rebels attempted to infiltrate the southern province following a failed attempt in 2015.
Houthi rebels have so far managed to advance towards the strategic Qataba area after seizing control of several government-held areas within the Dhale province but have yet to fight off resistance from fighters in the main city.
"Most of the Houthi fighters captured or found killed along the battlefield are unfortunately child soldiers," a government source told The New Arab.
"Dhale' is the border between the north and south of Yemen, whoever controls this strategic part of the country holds the gateway to the south," the source added.
Although the battle pits rebels against government forces, it has seeped into the pro-government camp, with clashes being reported between units from Hadi's presidency brigades and the Security Belt Forces – a UAE-backed pro-government militia.
Local news reported Hadi's forces were ambushed and sent back to Aden by the UAE-backed militia group after they had attempted to enter Dhale' to assist in the fighting. But the in-fighting is nothing new.
The UAE has recruited thousands of fighters from a separatist southern movement and these have clashed with government troops. In January 2018, southern separatists took control of the city of Aden, where Hadi's government had fled following the 2015 Houthi take over of Sanaa.
|Most of the Houthi fighters captured or found killed along the battlefield are unfortunately child soldiers|
But it seems like the UAE-backed militias have been misbehaving in other parts of Yemen this week.
The Yemeni government has accused the United Arab Emirates of landing around 100 southern separatists on the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea this week.
Yemeni officials said around 100 separatist fighters had disembarked in civilian clothes on Monday from a UAE naval vessel on Socotra. This took place while the Hadi government's Prime Minister, Ahmed Bin Daghir, was visiting Socotra.
The remote island, close to the coast of Africa, is a UNESCO world natural heritage site protected by the UN body for its unique flora and fauna.
It was not the first time the government of President Hadi has complained about UAE troop movements on Socotra.
|Last year the government accused the UAE of seizing the island when it unloaded tanks and troops there. Saudi Arabia, leader of the pro-Hadi Arab coalition, had to send troops to Socotra to defuse a standoff between Emirati and Hadi forces|
Last year the government accused the UAE of seizing the island when it unloaded tanks and troops there. Saudi Arabia, leader of the pro-Hadi Arab coalition, had to send troops to Socotra to defuse a standoff between Emirati and Hadi forces.
Two Yemeni government sources said on Wednesday that the UAE had trained a batch of 300 troops bound for Socotra in Aden last week, and sent more than 100 of them to the island on Monday.
On Wednesday hundreds of Yemenis marched through Socotra's main city, Hadiboh, in protest at the presence of UAE-backed forces. They gathered at the Summer Land Hotel, where Prime Minister Bin Daghir was staying and expressed their faith in the government's ability to "protect national sovereignty, unity, safety, security and stability in Yemen."
Yemen's interior minister last week criticised the UAE and said it should concentrate on fighting the Houthis.
"I think our partnership with the coalition is the war against the Houthis and not sharing the administrations of the liberated territories," Ahmed al-Mayssari said in comments broadcast by Yemeni television channels.
The UAE is one of the Arab countries nominally fighting on behalf of Yemen's internationally recognised government against the Houthi movement that controls the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
But relations are tense between the UAE – which is pursuing its own agenda in war-torn Yemen – and the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Trump's veto stands
Meanwhile in the West, the United States and France have also been causing a stir for Yemen.
The United States Senate on Thursday failed to override President Donald Trump's veto of legislation that would have ended military assistance for the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran-aligned rebels.
Lawmakers opposed to the veto have pledged to re-examine other aspects of America's ties with the kingdom.
|The Saudi regime is one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world, and has inflicted a terrible humanitarian crisis on Yemen
- Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade NGO
While the 53-45 vote to override fell well short of the required two-thirds, passage of the resolution in April was an unprecedented rebuke of Trump's foreign policy and a milestone for Congress, which invoked never-before-used powers in an effort to halt foreign military activity.
The US is providing logistical support and intelligence-sharing to its Saudi ally for the war in Yemen which has killed thousands of civilians and left millions more on the brink of famine.
To one of the resolution's sponsors, Senator Bernie Sanders, the action on Capitol Hill showed that "after years of abdicating that responsibility, Congress stood up in the Senate and in the House and said: You know what, Mr. President, you do not have the power to get US troops involved in a war that we did not vote upon. And that is a big deal."
In France, rights groups have accused Paris of being complicit in alleged war crimes against civilians in Yemen, where ALED figures suggest more than 60,000 people have died and millions been forced to the brink of starvation.
France confirmed on Wednesday that a new shipment of weapons will head for Saudi Arabia, despite claims Riyadh is using the arms in the Yemen war.
Defence Minister Florence Parly told BFM television the weapons would be loaded onto a Saudi cargo ship scheduled to arrive on Wednesday in the French port of Le Havre.
She refused to identify the types of arms, but reiterated France's stance that they have been used only for defensive purposes by Saudi Arabia since it began its Yemen offensive in 2015.
|France confirmed on Wednesday that a new shipment of weapons will head for Saudi Arabia, despite claims Riyadh is using the arms in the Yemen war|
"As far as the French government is aware, we have no proof that the victims in Yemen are the result of the use of French weapons," Parly said.
Pressure has been mounting on the government after the investigative news site Disclose leaked a classified military note last month detailing the use of French tanks and artillery in the war against Houthi rebels.
Disclose alleged the new shipment included eight truck-mounted Caesar howitzers, though a government source told AFP this week that such cannons were not part of the delivery.
"The Saudi regime is one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world, and has inflicted a terrible humanitarian crisis on Yemen," said Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade NGO.
"The destruction would not have been possible without the complicity and support of arms-dealing governments," he said.
In semi-good news, the World Food Programme said it gained access to vital food aid on the outskirts of Yemen's flashpoint city of Hodeida on Sunday, a month after postponing its mission for security reasons.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of the government accused the Houthi rebels of denying a group from the UN agency access to the Red Sea mills warehouse in April.
The WFP had said the mission was postponed due to "security reasons".
WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said a WFP-led mission and a technical team of the Red Sea mills company gained access to the food aid.
"The technical team will remain at the site to clean and service the milling equipment in preparation for the milling and eventual distribution of the wheat," Verhoosel told AFP in an emailed statement.
Before the UN lost access in September the Red Sea mills held 51,000 tonnes of grain, which was enough to feed more than 3.7 million people for a month.
In February, a WFP team visited the mills warehouse for the first time since September, when they became inaccessible due to the conflict between pro-government forces and the Houthi rebels.
The WFP said laboratory tests confirmed the wheat had been infested with insects and had to be fumigated to feed million of people.
He added that the food will have most likely further deteriorated in quality due to the hot weather.
This comes after an agreement was struck in Sweden in December, in which Yemeni rivals agreed to redeploy their fighters outside the ports and away from areas that are key to the humanitarian relief effort.
Fighting in Hodeida, a port that serves as the country's lifeline, has largely stopped since the ceasefire went into effect on December 18, but there have been intermittent clashes.
Both the government and the Houthis have been accused of violating the truce deal, while an agreed redeployment of forces has not yet been implemented.
More news from Yemen, same time, same place – next week.
Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab.
Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino
Yemen In Focus is a new, regular feature from The New Arab.