Two powerful explosions struck Friday near the houses of two Houthi leaders in the group’s main stronghold in capital Sanaa, eyewitnesses said.
Loud sounds of explosions were heard in northern Sanaa’s al-Garaf district.
The houses of the two leaders sustained major damage but left no casualties, eyewitnesses told Anadolu news agency.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack thus far. However, similar attacks targeting Houthis in Yemen have been claimed by Al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The news comes after Yemeni President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi offered to resign following a standoff with the Houthi movement, throwing his country deeper into political turmoil.
In his letter of resignation on Thursday, Hadi, a key US and Saudi ally, said he could no longer stay in office as the country was in “total deadlock.”
“I believe that I have not been able to achieve the goals for which I took up my duties,” he said, adding that Yemen’s political leaders had failed “to lead the country to calmer waters.”
Prime Minister Khalid Bahah also tendered his resignation, saying he didn’t want to be part of the collapse of the country.
“We do not want to be a party to what is happening and what is about to happen,” Bahah said in his letter of resignation, adding that the government refused “to take responsibility for the actions of others.”
A senior official told AFP that Yemen’s parliament had rejected Hadi’s resignation.
“Parliament… refused to accept the president’s resignation and decided to call an extraordinary session for Friday morning,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The shock announcements came after Houthi fighters tightened their grip on Sanaa this week after seizing almost full control of the capital in September.
They had maintained fighters around key buildings on Thursday and continued holding a top presidential aide they kidnapped on Saturday, despite a deal to end what authorities called a coup attempt.
The potential fall of Hadi’s Western-backed government will raise serious concerns of strategically important but impoverished Yemen collapsing into complete chaos.
Al-Qaeda power base
The country is an important power base for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni and Saudi branch of the international jihadist network.
AQAP is considered al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate and claimed responsibility for this month’s deadly attack on French satirical weeklyCharlie Hebdo, as well as numerous deadly attacks in Yemen.
Yemen has allowed the United States to carry out repeated drone attacks on al-Qaeda militants in its territory.
It is important to note that US drone attacks in the impoverished Gulf country have also killed many civilians unaffiliated with al-Qaeda.
Hadi is from Yemen’s formerly independent south and in recent days southern officials have taken steps to back his rule, including closing the air and sea ports in the main city of Aden.
The security and military committee for four of south Yemen’s provinces, including its main city Aden, said in a statement late Thursday it would not take orders from Sanaa following Hadi’s resignation and would defy all military orders from Sanaa if Hadi resigned.
The committee in charge of military and security affairs for Aden, Abyan, Lahej and Daleh, which is loyal to Hadi, said it had taken the decision after the president submitted his resignation letter to the parliament.
The committee condemned the “tragic events in Sanaa and the totally unacceptable demands made by the Houthis.”
It placed police and troops on alert across the four provinces, and instructed them to take orders only from the provincial governors and the fourth military region command in Aden, whose officers are Hadi loyalists.
The formerly independent south has three other provinces further east — Shabwa, Hadramawt and Mahra.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “seriously concerned” by the developments and called on all sides “to exercise maximum restraint and maintain peace and stability,” his spokesman said in a statement.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was assessing the fast-moving events.
“We continue to support a peaceful transition. We’ve urged all parties and continue to urge all parties to abide by… the peace and national partnership agreement,” Psaki told reporters.
A senior State Department official said staffing at the US embassy, already thin after most of the diplomatic personnel were ordered to leave in September, would be further reduced.
After heavy fighting between government forces and the Houthis this week that killed at least 35 people, the UN Security Council and Yemen’s Gulf Arab neighbors had all voiced support for Hadi’s continued rule.
The Houthis swept into Sanaa last year from their stronghold in the far north, demanding a greater say in the country’s affairs, and refused to abandon the capital despite a UN-negotiated deal.
The situation escalated on Saturday when the militiamen seized top presidential aide Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak in an apparent bid to extract changes to a draft constitution, which the Houthis oppose because it would divide Yemen into six federal regions, splitting the country into rich and poor areas.
Bin Mubarak is the secretary general of the national dialogue on a political transition following the 2012 resignation of veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh after a bloody year-long uprising.
The senior politician was “driven away to an unknown location,” an official from the national dialogue secretariat told AFP on Saturday, adding that the abductors “are suspected of being Houthi militiamen.”
Mubarak’s kidnapping came just before a meeting of the national dialogue secretariat to present a draft constitution dividing Yemen into a six-region federation.
In the ensuing days pitched battles erupted, with the Houthis eventually seizing Hadi’s offices in the presidential palace, attacking his residence and surrounding the home of the prime minister Bahah.
There had been hope the crisis would be resolved after the nine-point deal was struck late on Wednesday.
“The latest agreement is a series of timed measures to implement the peace and partnership accord, which shows that Ansarullah were not planning to undermine the political process,” Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi politburo, told Reuters, referring to an accord signed in September. Ansarullah is the Houthi group’s official name.
“The agreement is satisfactory because it confirms what is most important in the partnership agreement,” he added.
The withdrawal of the gunmen, and the release of bin Mubarak could happen in the next three days if the authorities committed to implementing the agreement fully, Bukhaiti added. Bin Mubarak remains in the hands of the Houthi fighters.
Indeed, a source close to the presidency said Thursday the Houthis have “gradually” begun to withdraw from Hadi’s private residence. “Presidential security will be redeployed to their positions in the next two days,” the source told Reuters.
Speaking hours after his fighters’ display of force on Tuesday, Houthi Leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi warned Hadi that he had to implement a partnership agreement that would ensure all Yemeni factions have a fair governmental representation.
The Houthis, rebels from the north drawn from a large Shia minority that ruled a 1,000-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962, stormed into the capital in September but had mostly held back from directly challenging Hadi until last week.
They accuse the president of seeking to bypass a power-sharing deal signed when they seized Sanaa in September, and say they are also working to protect state institutions from corrupt civil servants and officers trying to plunder state property.
The Houthi-backed power-sharing deal gives the group a role in all military and civil state bodies. The Houthis, who say the accord has not been implemented fast enough, also demand changes to the divisions of regional power in a draft constitution.
(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)