Saudi coalition wobbles as separatists take over Yemen's Aden
It also risks fragmenting southern Yemen as the United Nations struggles to restart talks to end the 4-1/2-year war that has pushed millions to the brink of famine.
Separatists, who want to split from the north and are backed by the United Arab Emirates, effectively seized Aden by taking over the government's military bases on Saturday after they accused a party allied to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi of complicity in a Houthi missile attack on their forces.
The Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's government hit back on Sunday, saying it attacked one target, after threatening to act if southern forces do not cease fighting.
The two sides had been nominally allied in the coalition fighting the Houthis, who ousted Hadi's government from the capital Sanaa in 2014, but they have rival agendas. It makes it harder for Saudi Arabia to weaken the grip of the Houthis, who hold Sanaa and most urban centres.
Cancer patients – the other victims of Yemen's war
For more than three years a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia has been fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Even hospitals are not safe from the bombing raids. Those who fall seriously ill can expect little help.
Expensive treatment: Khaled Ismael kisses the right hand of his daughter Radhiya. The 17-year-old cancer patient's left arm had to be amputated. The father could not afford better treatment, although he sold what he could and even borrowed money: "The war has destroyed our lives. We couldn't go abroad, so my daughter didnʹt receive the treatment she needed"
No government support: Yemenʹs National Oncology Centre in Sanaa has not received any government support for two years. The cancer centre is now financed through international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and donations from charities and business people
Only for children: the few beds available in the cancer clinic are reserved for children. The centre admits about 600 new cancer patients every month. Last year, however, the facility only had one million dollars to spend on treatment
Cancer therapy in the waiting room: adult patients at the cancer clinic are treated intravenously – on rickety camp beds or in the waiting room. Before the war, the centre received approximately $15 million a year in support and was even able to provide cancer drugs for other clinics in Yemen
Lack of relief supplies: a patient waits for her treatment at the cancer clinic in Sanaa. But there is a dearth of medical supplies in Yemen. The Saudi-led military coalition has severely restricted air and sea links. This was intended to stop the delivery of weapons to the Houthi rebels, who control large parts of the country and the capital
Too few doctors: Ali Hizam Mused, 70, has a tumour in his mouth. An aid organisation in Sanaa provides him and other cancer patients with shelter. There is not only a lack of beds, but also of doctors. Medical personnel are hard to find in Yemen. Moreover, many people cannot afford treatment
Humanitarian crisis: Fourteen year-old patient Amena Muhssein Owaid stands in a home for cancer patients run by a relief organisation. Millions of people in Yemen are at risk of malnourishment and diseases such as cholera, diphtheria and malaria. According to UN estimates, 50,000 people have already died as a result of the war
The Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen against the Houthis in 2015. The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Houthis have no traction in the south, where the UAE has armed and trained 90,000 Yemeni troops drawn from southern separatists and coastal plains fighters.
But the Southern Transitional Council that leads the separatists may not have broad support outside Aden. Its move risks igniting infighting in the south and emboldening militant groups like al-Qaida, among Yemen's many destabilising forces.
There is no love lost between the separatists and Hadi's government, which they accuse of mismanagement and corruption. The war has revived old strains between north and south Yemen, formerly separate countries that united into a single state in 1990.
This is not the first separatist uprising. They seized Aden in January 2018. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi helped end that standoff.
The UAE has asked U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths to exert pressure on both sides. Riyadh said it would host an emergency summit of the parties to restore order.
"Recruiting separate militias across the south ... was always playing with fire. It’s a bit rich now of the UAE to say the U.N. special envoy needs to sort it out," said Elisabeth Kendall of Oxford University.
"This could be a turning point, but it will be papered over by the leaderships in the way that it always is - but papering over bigger and bigger cracks now, so the paper is thinner and thinner," Kendall said.
The UAE said it scaled down its presence in Yemen due to a holding truce in the main port of Hodeidah, which became the focus of the war last year when the coalition tried to seize it.
Diplomats say it was because the UAE accepted there could be no military solution due to global criticism of coalition air strikes that have killed civilians and the humanitarian crisis.Western pressure to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and heightened U.S.-Iran tensions, which risk triggering a war in the Gulf, added impetus to the decision.
So what can the UN do? For now shuttle diplomacy. Griffiths had been trying to salvage a stalled troop withdrawal deal agreed by the Houthis and Hadi's government at December peace talks in Sweden.
He is also trying to calm tension between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia after the movement stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities in recent months.
But if any broader political talks on a transitional ruling body materialise, they would have to include more of Yemen's fractious parties, including southern separatists. (Reuters)