CAIRO - Fighters loyal to Yemen's Houthis attacked several positions belonging to southern separatists Wednesday, Arab media reported. The attacks occurred a day after a Houthi delegation met with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who reportedly backed a resumption of stalled talks between rival Yemeni groups.
Al Masira TV, which supports the Houthis, broadcast news of the meeting, insisting that Khamenei was "calling for talks between Yemen's rival factions" in order to "prevent a division of the country."
Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a spokesman for the Houthis, told Arab media that his group was conducting a "defensive campaign" along battle lines in Baida and Dalaa provinces following success of southern separatists in Aden, and that Wednesday's attacks were fairly minor skirmishes.
Yemen analyst Adel Dashela told Arab media the recent victory of southern separatists in Aden could prompt a wider conflict inside the country if the Houthis attempt to stop what appears to be a looming division of the country.
However, Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek told VOA that he does not believe the Houthis are in a position to prevent Yemen's division, despite tough talk by Khamenei.
Yemen "would not have much strategic importance were it not for the port of Aden, along world shipping routes, through the Bab el-Mandeb up to the Red Sea," Sadek said.
He added that the Houthis "are not in a position to oppose the division of Yemen" given that their benefactors, Iran and Hezbollah, are now in an increasingly precarious financial position due to U.S. sanctions.