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Rival Saudi, UAE-backed militants engage in clashes in Yemen's Socotra

UAE-backed southern Yemeni separatists patrol a street during a campaign to seize unlicensed motorcycles in Aden, Yemen, December 10, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

Once-allied rival militants, backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have engaged in intense clashes in Yemen’s strategic Socotra Island, exposing a deep rift in a Riyadh-led coalition.

Local sources said infighting between Saudi-sponsored mercenaries loyal to Yemen's former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and armed units of the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC), which is supported by the UAE, over the control of Socotra’s provincial capital of Hadibo.

Witnesses also told local media that the UAE-aligned elements had fired artillery shells at residential areas near Hadibo.

Shells struck the mountainous district of Haybat, about 20 kilometers outside Hadibo, said resident Aden al-Ghad.

Yemen's former prime minister Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr tweeted that the UAE-backed militants were trying to take control of Socotra’s provincial capital, "using all types of heavy weapons".

Some reports indicated that the STC’s military units had seized control of a coast guard battalion of the Saudi mercenaries and looted weapons and ammunition stores.

Yemen's al-Masirah TV network said Friday’s clashes followed the arrival of an Emirati ship loaded with weapons on the coast of Socotra.

Last week, the STC declared a state of emergency and announced “self-administration rule” in Yemen’s southern regions, including the port city of Aden — which has served as the seat of Hadi’s regime during the Saudi military aggression.

In August 2018, the UAE deployed more than a hundred troops with artillery and armored vehicles to Socotra. A few months later, a UAE official visiting Socotra said the island would become part of the UAE and its residents would be given Emirati citizenship.

In 2019, the UAE announced a surprise plan to withdraw part of its troops from Yemen in a major blow to its coalition allies.

Both the UAE-sponsored separatists and Saudi-backed Hadi loyalists serve a Riyadh-led military coalition which has been waging a bloody war on Yemeni people since March 2015.

The Western-sponsored bombing campaign has plunged Yemen into what the UN says is the world's worst humanitarian crisis and shattered its health system.

Aid groups have warned that Yemen’s health system is ill-equipped to handle the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Yemen records first coronavirus case in Ta’iz 

Late on Friday, Yemen reported the first coronavirus case in Ta’iz Province, raising the number of diagnosed infections to seven with two deaths.

In a Twitter post, the emergency coronavirus committee said that a 40-year-old man was diagnosed with the infection in Taiz, the region’s first case.

“The patient is receiving care at a quarantine center and measures have been taken by the monitoring teams and the health department for those who interacted with him,” it added.

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