Italy, others close embassies as Yemen plunges into chaos

Al-Qaeda attacks Shia rebels; UN warns of possible collapse

13 February, 20:05

    Fighters in Yemen Fighters in Yemen

    (by Lorenzo Trombetta) (ANSAmed) - BEIRUT, FEBRUARY 13 - Italy, Germany and Saudi Arabia announced Friday the closing of their embassies in Yemen and the repatriation of their staff from the capital, Sanaa.

    The UN has said that the country, overwhelmed by a Houthi Shia rebel coup and torn apart by Al-Qaeda fighters, risks disintegration and collapse and may soon slide into a civil war.

    Washington, London and Paris had closed their embassies in recent days. UN chief negotiator Jamal Benomar said that Yemen was ''at a crossroads. Either it will fall into a civil war and disintegration or it will find a way to get back onto the road to transition''. For months Benomar has been trying to heal a rift that may have become too wide. Houthi rebels - followers of the Shia Zaidi faith - have since September gradually taken power, starting from their northern strongholds. In January they ousted President Abed Rabbo Mansour, who had been backed by the US and Saudi Arabia. For weeks the prime minister and president have been under house arrest.

    Meanwhile, the Yemeni Al-Qaeda affiliate, which espouses a radical form of anti-Shia Sunni Islamism, has come back into the spotlight as well and stepped up attacks against Houthi positions and government objectives. The Yemeni faction of Al-Qaeda is seen by the US and its Western allies as one of the main threats to Western interests in the region: Al-Qaeda's claim of responsibility for the January 9 attacks in Paris came from a local preacher, for example. This is one of the reasons that the US continues its remote 'war on terror', killing Al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen with drones. A suicide attack on a police position in Bayda, southeastern Yemen, on Friday killed several Houthi fighters. No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but the technique used and the timing hint strongly at Al-Qaeda involvement.

    Extremist militants have in recent hours attacked a government army base in the Shabwa region in the south, plundering weapons and taking soldiers hostage. Clashes between Al-Qaeda fighters, their tribal allies and the Houthi have also occurred in Ridda, south-east of the capital. UN chief Ban Ki-Moon has warned that Yemen may ''collapse before our eyes''. At the diplomatic level there does not seem to be any concrete solution on the horizon. The UK and Jordan are working on a UN draft resolution, but with uncertain aims.

    Meanwhile, the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council has simply condemned the Houthi taking of power and called on the rebels to withdraw. (ANSAmed).

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