Gulf Arab states have demanded the restoration of government authority in Yemen, issuing a thinly veiled criticism of rebels with ties to Iran who have taken control of the capital, Sanaa.
Fighters from the Shi’ite Muslim Houthi movement seized Sanaa on Sept. 21 after overrunning an army brigade affiliated to the moderate Islamist Islah party, making them effectively the power brokers in the country.
The Houthis have since refused to quit the capital, which they control despite an agreement they signed with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to make them a part of the government.
An emergency meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) interior ministers expressed deep concern about what it termed threats to the Yemeni government and its institutions and the theft of the “properties and capabilities” of the Yemeni people.
GCC states would not “stand idly” in front of foreign intervention, the ministers said in a statement after the meeting late on Wednesday in the Saudi Arabian Red Sea port of Jeddah. It did not identify any foreign power.
“Yemeni and GCC security is indivisible,” the statement said, demanding the return of official buildings to state control and the return of all looted weapons, military equipment and money.
The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.
In a statement, al Qaeda’s Yemen wing, al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP)) called on militants to attack Houthis.
AQAP is fighting to topple Hadi’s rule, but has turned its attention to the Houthis since their capture of Sanaa, carrying out a number of deadly attacks. AQAP adheres to an austere brand of Sunni Islam which views Shi’ites as heretics.
“Do not leave a checkpoint for them that you do not strike, nor a headquarters that you do not bomb,” said an AQAP statement posted online, according to the SITE monitoring service.
“Lie in wait for them, cause harm to them on the roads, tighten the ambushes for them, and do not let them feel safe.”
Witnesses said that since Sept 21., armed Houthi tribesmen have been patrolling the streets, operating checkpoints and controlling access to several central government buildings.
The stability of Yemen is a priority for the United States and its Gulf Arab allies because of its position next to Saudi Arabia and shipping lanes which run through the Gulf of Aden.
Saudi Arabia views the Houthis, who hail from the Zaydi branch of Shi’ite Islam, as allies of arch-rival Iran. The Houthis acknowledge they are on good terms with Iran but insist they are not backed by Iran. Tehran denies interfering in Yemen.
Within a week of the takeover, Yemen freed at least three suspected Iranian Revolutionary Guard members, who had been held for months over alleged ties to the Houthis, and two suspected members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, who had been held on suspicion of planning to provide military aid to the Houthis.
The authorities have provided no public explanation for the releases. But the move suggested the Shi’ite group was dictating terms in the capital.