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Liberating Aden: The last battle in Yemen’s conflict?

Officials of the exiled Yemeni government returned to the city on Thursday for the first time since the rebels captured it. 

Abo Muhammed/AP
People watch fighters against Shiite rebels as they ride military vehicles on a street in the port city of Aden, Yemen, Tuesday, July 14, 2015.

Four months after Houthi rebels seized Aden, Yemen’s exiled vice president Khaled Bahah announced early Friday that Saudi-backed forces had “completely liberated” the city. 

In a celebratory Facebook post, Mr. Bahah said the Yemeni government will try "to restore life" to Aden, the last governmental stronghold where President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was seen before fleeing upon the rebels’ offensive in March. 

On Thursday, several ministers and top intelligence officials of the exiled Yemeni government returned to the city for the first time since the rebels captured it, according to Al-Jazeera.

Yet an unnamed spokesperson for the Houthi rebels denies the government’s reported victory. "There are many exaggerations. Fighting is still raging at high intensity," he told Al-Jazeera.

"We will not give up until we liberate Aden inch by inch from the invading powers,” he said.

Though reports confirm that fighting persists in other areas, the Saudi-backed forces have made significant advances in the city this week. 

Since Tuesday, an anti-Houthi southern militia recaptured the provincial government headquarters in the Mualla district, advanced on Aden's Crater district that houses a presidential palace, and took control of Aden's international airport.

Shi'ite Muslim Houthis, backed by Iran, seized Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, last September. Clashes escalated heavily after they pushed into the south in March and ousted President Hadi, igniting a military counteroffensive led by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states, Reuters reports.

The Sunni Muslim Gulf states spearheading the aerial campaign against the rebels have been trying to reinstate Hadi’s government despite the efforts of Houthis and their allies, who are loyal to Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"We will soon achieve a glorious victory in Yemen, our beloved country, in its entirety,” Hadi said in a televised speech. “The victory in Aden will be the key to saving our cause.” 

Though this week’s events signal a defeat for the Houthi rebels and former president Saleh, experts say the fighting is far from over.

Dr. Charles Schmitz is a professor of geography at Towson University and does research on the Middle East and Yemen with the Middle East Institute. He says conflicting interests on behalf of Yemeni fighters may prolong the clashes, even after they win over the Houthis. 

“The fighters in Aden and in the south appreciate the assistance of Saudi Arabia, but many reject the Hadi government and want an independent state,” Dr. Schmitz wrote in an email to the Monitor.

“If the [secessionists] do the fighting and suffering and Hadi’s people try to claim the victory, there may be serious fighting after the fighting,” he added. 

Last Friday, the United Nations brokered a one-week ceasefire that the Saudi-led coalition nullified within hours after launching air strikes in the capital and in Taiz, the country's third-largest city. 

The UN has repeatedly urged both sides of the conflict to halt their attacks to no avail, while the biggest loser in the conflict seems to be the Yemeni people.

During a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, Johannes van der Klaauw, Yemen’s representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the country has been impacted by “one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world,” as four out of five Yemenis are in need of some kind of assistance, amounting to 21 out of 25 million people.

The violence has left 1,500 civilians dead, 3,600 injured and 1 million displaced within the three months after the rebels seized Aden in March, the UN reports.

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