Ma’rib and Al-Hudaydah, Asharq Al-Awsat—As clashes continued in the Yemeni oil-rich central province of Ma’rib between members of the Shi’ite Houthi movement and tribal fighters, the latter have threatened to attack petroleum installations and power plants in the province, should the Houthis be successful in capturing them.
Leaders of several of the province’s most prominent tribes issued a joint press statement on Sunday threatening to destroy oil and gas installations rather than allow them to fall into the hands of the Houthis.
Tribal sources have said armed members of the Shi’ite movement were being spotted more frequently on the outskirts of the province, and that local tribal leaders suspected they were planning to take control of the oil and gas fields there as part of their advance across Yemen.
Since September, the Houthis have spread throughout Yemen, using armed members and those from their affiliate Ansar Allah group to gain control of large parts of the country, including the capital Sana’a. Fighters loyal to the movement have also occupied government buildings and military installations, amid an almost total absence of resistance from the security forces after Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi struck an agreement with the group to restore fuel subsidies and create a new government which included some of its members.
Earlier this month, sanctions on two senior Houthi leaders were approved by the UN Security Council. The sanctions, which include asset freezes and travel bans, were also applied to Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is accused of conspiring with the Houthis and who ruled Yemen for over 30 years before being forced to step down in 2012 by mass public protests. All three are accused of posing a threat to Yemen’s fragile political transition.
Ma’rib, which lies some 107 miles (173 kilometers) to the northeast of Sana’a, is home to most of the country’s oil reserves. Oil revenues make up some 70 percent of Yemen’s entire budget and are the main source of income for the country, which is the poorest in the Arabian Peninsula. The province is also Yemen’s main power-generating hub, serving as the main source of electricity for the rest of the country.
Meanwhile, a source in the the western Al-Hudaydah province told Asharq Al-Awsat that armed Houthis movement had surrounded the Yemeni Navy and Coastal Defense headquarters in the province, expelling naval personnel stationed there.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “The Houthi militias want to control the [navy’s] headquarters and the weapons depots belonging to the navy.”
He added, that, in a repeat of other scenes across the country since September, the Houthis were able to advance on the headquarters building “without any resistance to speak of.”
Dawd Yehya Hassan Mohamed, a member of the Yemeni Navy based in Al-Hudaydah, told Asharq Al-Awsat that naval officers officers and enlisted personnel had begun a sit-in last Wednesday, pitching tents outside navy HQ to protest what they said was growing corruption and discrimination against some serving sailors within the organization.
He denied reports that the Houthis had managed to infiltrate the sit-in, or that they had taken over the headquarters.
“Their [the Houthis’] presence here outside the headquarters is solely for the purpose of protecting the building and preventing any trouble from occurring, as they have done outside other government buildings,” Mohamed said.
Wael Hazam contributed reporting from Al-Hudaydah