Yemen’s Shiite militia sent reinforcements south and clashed with local fighters on Monday after the United Nations warned the country is on the brink of a protracted civil war.
Security sources said the militiamen, known as Houthis, had sent several thousand troops south and fought with local Sunni tribes as they approached the main southern city of Aden, where President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi took refuge after fleeing the capital last month.
On Sunday the militia seized the airport and a nearby military base in Taez, Yemen’s third-largest city which is just 180 km north of Aden and seen as a strategic entry point to Hadi’s southern refuge.
The UN Security Council voiced its support for Hadi, with UN envoy Jamal Benomar warning that without immediate action the country will slide into “further violence and dislocation.”
“(Recent events) seem to be leading Yemen to the edge of a civil war,” Benomar told the meeting by video link from Qatar, warning of a protracted crisis like “a Libya-Syria combined scenario.”
The Houthis seized Sanaa in September and have been expanding their territory, clashing with Hadi loyalists, local tribes and Sunni groups including Al-Qaeda.
The Houthis have also sent some 5,000 militiamen and more than 80 tanks to an area of neighboring Ibb province that is about 30 km northeast of Taez, local and military sources said.
The reinforcements took over schools in the area and set them up as barracks, the sources said. Troops and southern paramilitary forces loyal to Hadi have also reportedly deployed in Lahj province north of Aden.