Yemen’s government forces and military units of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) engaged in armed confrontations over control of the country’s oil-rich province of Shabwa on Thursday night, a security official told Xinhua.
Intense street fighting struck the neighborhoods of Attaq, Shabwa’s provincial capital, as the STC forces attempt to seize the city from the Saudi-backed Yemeni government forces, said the official on condition of anonymity.
He said that “the clashes expanded to include other areas in and around Attaq, where army bases of the government are located.”
“The STC forces are now storming the 21st Armored Brigade of the government forces positioned in Attaq,” said the source.
Local residents told Xinhua by phone that huge explosions rocked Attaq’s neighborhoods, particularly near the city’s airport and around the government’s institutions.
Warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition hovered in the airspace of Shabwa but launched no airstrikes against the warring factions.
Earlier in the day, a local Yemeni source said that “tension mounted in Shabwa when military units of the STC demanded the government forces hand over the administration of the province and withdraw peacefully.”
He said that both warring sides mobilized their troops and positioned in Attaq amid fears of the eruption of armed clashes.
A mediation committee composed of senior Saudi military officials backed by a small security unit of the Saudi-led Arab coalition arrived in the province in an attempt to de-escalate the tension.
But the southern forces insisted on the complete withdrawal of the armed forces loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood Islah party which is part of the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, from Shabwa.
“Unless these forces withdraw, the situation will move towards military escalation and decisiveness in the upcoming hours,” said a commander of the STC forces.
Local residents told our reporters that military vehicles had been heavily deployed in several areas of the province, especially near the areas where the government forces are stationed in Attaq.
The tense situation in Shabwa comes after the STC forces that are demanding secession completely seized the southern port city of Aden and neighboring Abyan province from the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.
The STC was a part of the Saudi-led Arab coalition to fight Iran-backed Houthi militias in northern Yemen in a war that has rekindled old strains between the north and south of Yemen.
The impoverished Arab country has been locked in a civil war since late 2014, when the Houthis overran much of the country and seized all northern provinces, including the capital Sanaa.