ADEN/DUBAI (Reuters) - Southern Yemeni separatists withdrew on Saturday from some government buildings in Aden that they seized last week but held on to military camps that give them control over the southern port, interim seat of Yemen’s ousted Saudi-backed government.
The separatists’ takeover of Aden has strained a Saudi-led military coalition formed to confront the Iranian-aligned Houthis, who bombed a Saudi oil facility on Saturday.
A Houthi military spokesman said 10 drones launched towards oil installations at Shaybah in eastern Saudi Arabia constituted the “biggest attack in the depths” of the kingdom.
The state oil company Saudi Aramco said the attack had caused a “limited fire” at a gas plant which had been contained and had not affected production. Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih condemned the strike as “cowardly” sabotage.
The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and its Shi’ite regional rival, Iran.
The Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the Houthis ousted him from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014.
The United Nations has been trying to implement a stalled peace deal in the port city of Hodeidah and pave the way for political talks to end the war, which has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi said that events in Aden showed the coalition was in crisis and that Hadi was powerless.
“Those who supported the aggressors... have no authority or freedom, but are subservient to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” the group’s Al Masirah TV quoted him as saying.
He said the strike on Saudi oil assets near the border with the United Arab Emirates was also a warning to the UAE, which has scaled down its military presence in the coalition but continued to funds and arm the southern separatists.
Al Masirah reported that the Houthis had appointed an ambassador to Iran.
Coalition warplanes fired flares over Aden at dawn near camps occupied by separatist fighters after the alliance renewed a call for them to quit government sites and for all forces in the south to focus on fighting the Houthis.
The separatists are a main component in the anti-Houthi alliance, but the war has rekindled old strains between north and south Yemen - which were separate countries until 1990.
Southern Transitional Council (STC) sources told Reuters their forces, which had pulled back from the presidential palace and central bank, were vacating government institutions under the supervision of a Saudi-UAE delegation.
However, they said the forces would not quit government military camps that give them effective control of Aden.
An STC spokesman said they would not cede control unless the Islah party - a backbone of Hadi’s government that is seen by the UAE as an offshoot of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood - and northerners were removed from positions of power in the south.
The Saudi-backed government’s information minister said the southerners had also withdrawn from the hospital and cabinet secretariat, and were in the process of handing over the interior ministry and Aden’s refinery.
The UAE has called for dialogue without directly asking the southern forces to cede control. Saudi Arabia wants to host a summit to end the crisis. Hadi’s government says it will not attend before separatists reverse what it calls their coup.
Reporting by Reuters team in Yemen, Maher Chmayteli and Rania El Gamal in Dubai; Writing by Sylvia Westall and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan