Houthi fighters have battled guards at the Yemeni president’s private home and entered his palace, raising the stakes in a turbulent campaign for more political power that has thrown the Arab state deeper into turmoil.
Speaking hours after his fighters’ display of force, the Houthi militia leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi warned president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi that he had to implement a power-sharing deal struck when the Shi’ite rebels seized the capital in September.
He said “all options” were open against Mr Hadi, whom he accused of supporting the “fragmentation” of the country.
“I here advise the president … Implement this deal. It is for your benefit and for the benefit of your people,” al-Houthi said.
In a long televised address, he also warned the UN Security Council that “you will not benefit from any measures you wish to take” against the Houthis.
“We are ready to face the consequences, regardless of what they are,” he said.
Al-Houthi prizes the power-sharing accord because it grants his Shi’ite Muslim group participation in all military and civil state bodies.
“We … will not hesitate to impose any necessary measures to implement the peace and partnership agreement,” said al-Houthi, whose group is widely seen as an ally of Iran in its regional struggle for influence with Saudi Arabia.
Information minister Nadia Sakkaf said the militia had attacked the president’s residence in western Sanaa on Tuesday, after witnesses reported clashes in the area.
Mr Hadi was earlier reported to have been in the building meeting with advisers and security officials.
A military official said the rebels had also seized the presidential palace in southern Sanaa, where Mr Hadi’s offices are located, and were “looting its arms depots”.
President Hadi — an ally of the West and staunch supporter of US drone attacks on Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen — has been also increasingly at odds with al-Houthi over a draft constitution intended to help end decades of conflict and underdevelopment.
The emergence of the Houthis as Yemen’s de facto top power last September scrambled alliances and stirred tensions across Yemen’s political spectrum, raising fears of deeper instability in a country with one of Al Qaeda’s most active branches.
Tensions have been running high since Saturday, when the Houthis abducted president Hadi’s chief of staff in an apparent move to extract changes to a draft constitution opposed by the militia.
In heavy fighting at the start of the week, militiamen and troops fought pitched battles near the palace and in other parts of Sanaa, leaving at least nine people dead and 67 wounded.
Government the ‘legitimate authority’, UN says
Gulf Arab foreign ministers were due to discuss the Yemeni crisis at an emergency meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh later on Wednesday.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence and called for order in the country.
The UN Security Council backed president Hadi as “the legitimate authority” and called on all parties and political actors in Yemen to stand with the government “to keep the country on track to stability and security”.
While calling for a full ceasefire and a return to dialogue, the council did not threaten any sanctions.
Meanwhile, the US said it remained “firmly committed” to supporting Mr Hadi and his government and called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities”, according to a State Department official.
UN special envoy Jamal Benomar told the council via videolink that the Houthi fighters had launched a “massive attack using heavy weapons” on the palace, a diplomat present at the closed meeting said.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said “all parties must step back immediately from conflict”.