CAIRO - Yemen's president is accusing Iran of provoking current unrest in his country as Shi'ite Houthi rebels advance on the capital Sana'a. Fighting overnight north of the capital reportedly killed 11 people.
A number of casualties were reported in fighting between the rebels and government forces in Jawf province overnight. It was part of a series of low-level clashes between Yemen's army and the Zaidi Shi'ite forces under Abdel Malik al Houthi who are moving toward Sana'a.
Yemen's President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi is blaming Iran for inciting the conflict. He claimed in a statement that Iran was trying to “trade Sana'a for the Syrian capital, Damascus,” a reference to Iranian support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.
A meeting between the Yemeni president and representatives of the rebels originally scheduled for Thursday was postponed by 48 hours. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss the current conflict in Yemen on Friday.
Rebel leader Abdel Malik al Houthi demanded this week that the government resign and a new government be appointed. He also insisted that the government back down on a recent decision to raise fuel prices.
Hakim Almasmari, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post newspaper, tells VOA the Houthi rebels are trying to assert themselves as the most powerful political force in Yemen.
"We could easily say that 20 percent of the Yemenis right now support the Houthis and that's a very big majority, The Houthis are attempting to be the main force in the country, not to take power," Almasmari said. "They will not invade Sana'a, but their main obligation and their main goal is to ensure that they control the policy making of Yemen."
Almasmari says it's known that Iran is helping the Houthis, but notes the rebels are indigenous Yemenis who feel they've been marginalized by the Sunni majority.
"It is not a secret that the Iranians have been helping the Houthis for years now," Almasmari said. "So, the presidential comments like this is a sign of weakness. It's not a secret. He's not saying anything new. The Houthis today have hundreds of thousands of armed gunmen willing to fight and those are not Iranians. Those are Yemenis."
In July, the U.N. Security Council and the United States, in separate statements, expressed concern about Yemen's fighting and urged a peaceful reconciliation.