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Farouq al-Kamali

Yemen: Sanaa prepares for decisive battle

Houthi fighters have been bolstering defenses in and around the capital [MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP]

Date of publication: 25 August, 2015

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The Yemeni capital is preparing for a potentially decisive battle in the coming days as Houthi rebels bolster defences while Saudi-led coalition urges fighters to defect.

The Yemeni capital Sanaa is preparing for a potentially decisive battle in the coming days between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to deposed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the one hand and forces allied to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi in addition to Saudi-led Arab coalition forces on the other.

Eyewitnesses have told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Houthi forces are bolstering defenses in and around the Yemeni capital, which confirms that the battle for Sanaa is likely to take place soon.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes had dropped thousands of leaflets over Sanaa on Tuesday, which called for forces allied with the Houthis to defect and join pro-Hadi fighters.

Last Wednesday, Russia announced that it might evacuate its diplomatic mission from Sanaa if the fighting intensifies, in a sign to the possibility of major clashes in the city over the coming days.

Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian President's special representative for the Middle East and Africa announced that the Russian embassy in Sanaa is taking precautions in case the situation in the city escalates and has placed an "evacuation plan".

Arab and foreign embassies had left Sanaa after the Houthi rebels carried out a coup against President Hadi earlier this year through what is know as the "constitutional declaration," however the Russian embassy continued to operate until last week.

Analysts said that the closure of the Russian embassy and the evacuation of its staff signal an imminent battle for Sanaa, which would involve heavy airstrikes, a ground incursion and intense street battles.

Sanaa has seen a new wage of residents flee the fighting to more secure areas, while forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh have taken positions in the area close to his residence in the capital and ordered shop keepers to close their businesses and leave within five days, according to locals.

Saleh warned the Saudi-led coalition that Yemen would rise up against them and teach them a hard lesson, in a speech last Sunday on the anniversary of the creation of his party, The General People's Congress (GPC).

"Since the first day of the aggression we have warned that the tables will turn against you and the region will witness unexpected changes," said Saled addressing the Saudi-led coalition.

"The Yemeni people will not remain silent and will not relinquish their rights. They will respond to aggression in their own way, which neither you, your research centres, experts, drones or AWACS planes know or realise," he added.

'Strategic mistake'

However, some analysts believes that launching a deceive battle in Sanaa is a strategic mistake by pro-Hadi and Saudi-led coalition forces as long as the battle in Taiz, south of Yemen, has not been resolved.

"Thinking about liberating Sanaa from the coup forces before securing the southern governorates and liberating Taiz, Marib and al-Bayda is a strategic mistake in my opinion," said Abdul Karim Salam, a political analyst.

Salam believes that the anti-Houthi camp is betting on tribal forces from areas surrounding the capital to liberate Sanaa, which will lead to wide scale and uncontrollable looting.

He explained that announcing Aden as a temporary capital for the country, and the return of Hadi's government to it will remove any political or symbolic significance from Sanaa, and thus will eliminate the need for a huge sacrifice to recapture the city.

"The priority is to complete the liberation of Aden, Taiz, Marib, Ibb, Shabwah and al-Bayda to regain government presence in those areas and then use economic, political, military and diplomatic pressure to force the coup forces to hand over the Yemeni capital and then agree to implement the outcomes of the national dialogue," said Salam.

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