Barricades are going up in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, as fighting intensifies between government forces and protesters supported by sections of the army which have defected.
“Each side sees lethal force is the only option to eliminate the other,” said Abdurrahman al-Marwani, chairman of local NGO Dar al-Salam Organization.
For the first time in months, fighting has reached areas such as the Old City of Sana’a, where the government-aligned National Security Organization is located.
"The coming days will see decisive actions: a political settlement or a wide-scale civil war," said military expert Abdulaziz Saif al-Hamzi, from the Sana’a-based Military Academy.
At least six protesters were killed and more than 40 injured in clashes with pro-government troops and snipers in a demonstration in the capital on 18 October, according to Tariq Numan, a surgeon at a field hospital near Sana’a university.
The unprecedented scale of armed confrontations in Sana’a and its outskirts such as the northern Arhab and Nihm districts, was "from a pragmatic and realistic viewpoint the beginning of a large-scale war which is impossible to contain without an immediate power-transition," said al-Hamzi.
"The city [Sana’a] has become a war zone. Bombings are heard from all directions - from east, west, north and south," Mohammed al-Emad, a protest leader camping out in front of Sana’a University, told IRIN on 17 October.
Eye-witnessess say mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, Katyusha rockets and heavy machine-guns have been used by both sides - government troops on the one hand, and army defectors and opposition gunmen loyal to Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar (leader of the powerful Hashid tribe) on the other.
The situation has forced several dozen families to flee their homes in the Hay Sufan, Jerraf, Nahdha, Hayel, Zubairi, Baghdad, Zeraa and Qaa central and northwestern parts of Sana’a to safer areas outside the capital. Al-Hasaba neighbourhood, which is the stronghold of opposition leader Sheikh al-Ahmar, has become a ghost city, observers say.
Following the killing of several civilians in 16 September clashes, army defectors, led by Gen Ali Mohsen Saleh, commander of the Northwestern Military Zone (NMZ) and the Sana’a-based First Armoured Division (FAD), issued a statement saying that some 190 protesters and defected soldiers had been killed and more than 2,300 others injured since President Saleh returned from medical treatment in Saudi Arabia on 23 September.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos says the international community has failed to give enough attention to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen: “If we don’t act now, the situation could become a catastrophe… In neighbouring Somalia, we have seen what happens if warnings go unheeded, and too little is done in time to stop a crisis. Let us not repeat the same mistake in Yemen.”
If we don’t act now, the situation could become a catastrophe… In neighbouring Somalia, we have seen what happens if warnings go unheeded, and too little is done in time to stop a crisis. Let us not repeat the same mistake in Yemen
Analysts say the country's armed forces are divided into the traditional army (loyal to defected Gen Ali Mohsen Saleh, commander of NMZ and FAD); and the Republican Guards, led by President Saleh's son, Brig Ahmad.
According to military expert Hussein Abdulkarim, FAD has 25,000-30,000 urban-warfare-trained fighters in Sana’a.
"The Republican Guards are an elite force on paper, but [unlike defected troops] lack the required experience for waging street warfare," Abdulkarim told IRIN.
Pro-opposition fighters from the Hashid tribe, led by al-Ahmar, (one of several tribes aligned with Gen Ali Mohsen Saleh), possess all types of small, medium and heavy weapons, said Abdulkarim.
The government, analysts say, has resorted to deploying tribesmen for street fighting in Sana’a and Taiz, and this could drag the country into long-term tribal blood feuds and revenge killings.
Pro-government tribal leader Sheikh Saqhir Bin Aziz lost his younger brother in clashes on 16 October with al-Ahmar fighters in Hay Sufan, northwestern Sana’a, and the two families are locked in a blood feud.
Dozens on both sides have been killed in house-to-house clashes over the past three weeks, according to retired security official Ahmad Ali Saad, adding: "The political turmoil in the country may end any time in the future, but blood feuds between the two families may last for several decades to come."
Dar al-Salam Organization chairman al-Marwani warned that some blood feuds dated back more than 50 years.
The volatile situation is being fuelled by an estimated 60 million small and medium-size weapons in the country, says political analyst Abdussalam al-Maqrami.
“We are extremely concerned that security forces continue to use excessive force in a climate of complete impunity for crimes resulting in heavy loss of life and injury, despite repeated pledges by the Government to the contrary,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in Geneva on 18 October.
“We reiterate our call for an international, independent, transparent investigation, for accountability and for justice,” he added.” Those responsible for the hundreds of killings since the protest movement began in Yemen more than 8 months ago must be prosecuted, regardless of rank or title. We also call on the Government’s armed opponents to remove weapons from public spaces used by peaceful protestors, and to stop launching armed attacks from densely populated areas.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions