UAE-backed Yemeni forces seize Shabwa energy sites in tussle with rivals

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DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemeni forces backed by the United Arab Emirates have seized energy facilities in Shabwa from another faction, prompting the head of the Saudi-backed presidential council on Sunday to order their withdrawal as internal rivalries beset the new body.

The fate of the council is important for Saudi Arabia which is trying to strengthen an alliance against Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis, and for U.N. efforts to forge a permanent ceasefire in the wider conflict that has dragged for over seven years.

Forces of the Islamist Islah Party said in a statement that the UAE-backed Giants Brigade and their allies on Saturday took over offices in oil sector 4 in Ayaz in southern Shabwa province and pipeline stations and were holding some of their forces.

Political Leadership Council (PLC) head Rashad al-Alimi on Sunday ordered the defence minister and Shabwa’s governor to “restore matters to their previous state before the attack and release those detained”, according to the directive seen by Reuters.

A spokesperson for the Giants Brigade did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Forces of the Islah Party and the Giants Brigade — both represented in the eight-member PLC — had already clashed earlier this month in Shabwa.

The council assumed the powers of the internationally recognised president-in-exile in April under Saudi auspices but analysts say its members’ competing agendas, including those of southern separatists, pose a major challenge.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement largely controls the north and other big population centres after ousting the Saudi-backed government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting Riyadh to intervene at the head of a coalition months later.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a dire humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations in April brokered a two-month truce between the coalition and the Houthis that has been renewed twice and is pushing for an extended and expanded truce deal.

The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.

(Reporting by Yemen team; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by David Evans)