March 16-23: Pro-Houthi forces take Ta'iz while Hadi's militias hold Aden

Rapidly-developing and troubling events, chiefly at the security and the political levels, have grabbed the headlines of the local press over the last week, which began with the release of government ministers from house arrest, and ended with a series of horrific suicide attacks. Purportedly carried out by ISIS-linked militants, the attacks left hundreds of civilians dead and wounded in the capital, San‘a, and killed 29 soldiers in the southern province of Lahj. Early last week, the Houthi group released Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his ministers after nearly two months of house arrest. The move was seen as a prelude to Ansar Allah’s forming a new government made up of their own allies.

This came as local reports indicated that President ‘Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi, who established himself in his provisional capital of Aden, held a meeting with several Cabinet members including the former defense minister, Mahmud al-Subayhi. The following day, the Islah Party withdrew from UN-sponsored political talks, hours after Ansar Allah released three Islah members who had been detained for two weeks.

Though the Islah party assigned these three members as delegates in the political talks, the three declined, leaving Islah with its former two delegates, who previously had boycotted the sessions.

As the political talks hit a stumbling block, a prominent Houthi-affiliated prominent journalist and activist, Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting.

On the next day, fighting between pro-Hadi “Popular committee” militiamen and Special Security Forces (SSF) troops--tied to former president ‘Ali Saleh and Ansar Allah--intensified in Aden. Aden Airport was forced to halt its flights after the rival forces fought for control of the installation. The fighting came to an end and the SSF commander fled, after pro-Hadi armed forces led by provisional defense minister al-Subayhi stormed the airport and the SSF headquarters nearby. Pro-Houthi and pro-Saleh forces, on the other hand, reportedly entered the third largest city of Taiz, which they captured two days later.

On Friday, militants apparently loyal to the so-called Islamic State (IS), headquartered in Iraq, claimed responsibility for attacking two mosques frequented by Houthi Movement supporters in the capital Sana'a. The suicide bombings at the mosques killed more than 130 civilians including 13 children. Later on the same day, 29 soldiers were reportedly slain by IS-linked militants in Lahj.

Over the weekend, President Hadi made his first televised speech since fleeing house arrest and establishing himself in Aden, in which he promised to retake Houthi-controlled areas and secure Yemen’s “unity.”

In his own speech shortly thereafter, ‘Abd al-Malik al-Houthi called for an all-out mobilization of military and security forces, a move seen as a “declaration of war” by most observers.