Yemeni separatists have taken effective control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with troops loyal to the internationally backed government.
Forces aligned with the United Arab Emirates (UAE-backed) Southern Transitional Council (STC) – which wants an independent south – said they had seized control of military camps and the presidential palace.
The opposing Saudi-led coalition said it had responded with military action.
The government itself characterised the STC’s seizure of Aden as a “coup”.
Coalition forces had called on the STC to withdraw from their positions in Aden or face further action. It said it launched its strike against a “threat” to the country’s government.
With the STC in control of Aden on Saturday, both sides agreed to a ceasefire, which appears to be holding despite the strike.
Southern separatists have fought alongside pro-government forces for much of Yemen’s civil conflict but it has long seemed an uneasy alliance.
The southern port city of Aden has been the temporary base of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s government. The president himself is based in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
An official with the separatist Security Belt militia told AFP that it seized the presidential palace on Saturday without a fight.
“Two hundred soldiers from the Presidential Guard were given safe passage out of the palace,” the official said.
Erstwhile allies, the separatists and forces loyal to President Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi are now engaged in a showdown that could see the Saudi-led coalition fragment and create a new civil war within the civil war in Yemen.
The fracture within the coalition may deepen – as divisions between its two major players, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are exposed.
The Emiratis have nurtured the Southern Transitional Council as a key force within the coalition, while the Saudis have stuck with President Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, who still spends most of his time in exile in Riyadh.
Privately, the UAE and the forces it supports do not think he’s up to the job.
The separatists believe that Islamist forces within the coalition have been strengthened and emboldened by the Saudis and could take over the south, even permitting al-Qaeda to make a comeback there. –BBC