An unidentified warplane attacked the presidential palace in Yemen's southern city of Aden after rival forces engaged in fierce clashes at an airport nearby, making Thursday's violence the latest in a complex fight among numerous parties for regional and national control.
Security forces loyal to former Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh attacked the international airport in Aden early Thursday, triggering a battle with militia loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the country's internationally recognized leader. The fighting forced the airport's closure.
Forces on both sides also fought in other parts of the port city.
Officials said four pro-Saleh fighters and two militiamen were killed in the clashes. There were also a number of injuries.
Plane flew from Sana'a
In the capital, Sana'a, Jafar Kukay, a reporter for VOA's Somali news service, said the warplane that attacked the presidential palace was flown from Sana'a. He said forces loyal to the president fired anti-aircraft guns at the plane after it launched a missile at the palace.
Kukay said, according to a presidential aide, that Hadi is "safe and secure."
The fighting around a special forces base in the Khor Maksar district of Aden spread to residential districts and prompted roads to the nearby airport to be closed.
Airport authorities canceled at least one Yemenia flight after shooting started early in the morning, where members of the so-called Popular Committees, a local militia loyal to Hadi, was in a standoff with the special forces loyal to Saleh.
The plane was one of only two aircraft, both belonging to the national carrier, left on the tarmac. The sound of heavy explosions shook the terminal building as the clashes intensified.
A local official said the militiamen, backed by regular troops deployed from a nearby army camp that had sided with Hadi, secured control of the airport by midday.
Yemen Post newspaper editor-in-chief Hakim Almasmari told VOA Hadi's men appear to be in control.
"Hundreds of troops loyal to President Hadi came with heavy artillery and tanks and entered Aden by force, therefore taking control of the airport and the special forces headquarters. Right now, for the first time in two weeks, President Hadi is in control of the special forces and those opposing him were forced to escape," Almasmari said.
Hadi last month escaped house arrest by the Shi'ite Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sana'a, and count Saleh as an ally. Hadi fled to Aden in a bid to reestablish his authority in the politically fractured nation.
The United Nations, Arab Gulf nations and several Western countries, including the United States, have all issued statements supporting Hadi.
Recently, former President Saleh, whom Arab analysts said has formed a loose alliance with the Houthis, denounced Hadi's attempt to govern the country from Aden.
Saleh threatened Hadi with a fate similar to those of southern Yemeni leaders who mounted an insurrection in 1994 and were later forced to flee.
South Yemen united with the north in 1990. Hadi is originally from the south.
American University of Beirut political scientist Hilal Khashan said rival military units are involved in the power struggle.
"The army is split. There is a struggle within the ranks of the Yemeni army, and there are important army units in the south and these army units are mostly from the north. So, northern army troops in the south are battling among themselves between those who support Hadi and those who support Ali Abdallah Saleh," Khashan said.
Khashan added Yemen is on the verge of a “de facto partition between north and south” and Hadi will probably “prevail in the south,” much as the Houthis have “already prevailed in the north.” He believes the south will remain pro-Western and keep strong ties with Saudi Arabia.
Edward Yeranian contributed to this report from Cairo. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.