Dozens of people are reported to have been killed and injured in clashes between pro-government forces and a group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, in Yemen's Shabwa governorate early on Monday.
In the aftermath of the confrontation in provincial capital Attaq, pro-government forces urged “rebellious” military and security personnel to “turn themselves in”.
The confrontation followed a move by Shabwa governor Awad bin Al Wazir to remove Brig Gen Abd Rabbo Lakab, commander of the Special Security unit of the Shabwa Defence Forces, on Saturday.
While the Shabwa Defence Forces are a pro-government group, Brig Gen Lakab has been linked to Al Islah, a coalition of tribal and religious elements with origins in a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militia. In the past it has fought the Shabwa Defence Forces.
However, Minister of Interior Ibrahim Haidan effectively overturned the governor's decision raising tensions between Shabwa Defence Forces, who were backing the governor for Brig Gen Lakab's removal, and Al Islah fighters loyal to Brig Gen Lakab.
After the clashes between Shabwa Defence Forces and Al Islah fighters, Yemen's Presidential Leadership Council held an emergency meeting in which it upheld the governor's decision to relieve Brig Gen Lakab and three other commanders “effective immediately”.
“Decisions have been taken to end the reasons for the tensions and to ensure that the events do not recur,” state-run Saba news agency reported.
“The PLC expressed its condolences to the victims' families and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.”
It is unclear exactly how many people were killed in the clashes, though estimates put the casualties in dozens.
“The clashes first erupted between the so-called Special Forces loyal to Shabwa's former governor Mohammed Saleh bin Edio, who is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood group, and troops from the newly constructed Shabwa Defence Forces, which was established by the Saudi-led coalition a few months ago to take charge of securing the province,” a security source in Attaq told The National.
Brig Gen Lakab is widely accused of serving the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen and supporting Shabwa's former governor Mr bin Edio. Mr bin Edio was sacked by Yemen's former president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi last December.
The security source said Brig Gen Lakab prevented his replacement commander from accessing his office — a move that the governor considered an act of rebellion.
“The governor tried hard to convince Lakab and his peers in the Special Forces to work for the sake of Shabwa and its people but they didn't take the chance.
“They kept doing their best to undermine the governor's efforts to normalise the situation in the province so the governor had no option than to sack him and replace him with a new commander,” the security source said.
Units from the Giants Brigades in the oil-rich district of Bayhan — which they recaptured from Iran-backed Houthis rebels in January — were sent to Attaq to secure the city, following orders from the PLC.
In a Tweet on Monday, Shabwa Defence Forces and the Giants Brigade had called for “rebellious” military and security personnel to “turn themselves in and drop their weapons or remain at home to preserve their lives”.
Also early on Monday, an explosion rocked the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa after the rebel group allegedly failed in an attempt to launch a missile, officials and local residents told The National. No casualties were reported.
“A strong explosion from the direction of Al Hafaa camp, located in the south of Sanaa, was felt and followed by a series of small explosions, the cause of which was not clear,” a nearby resident said.
“Some say that a missile store exploded, and some say that a missile exploded after it failed to launch and caused a fire in an ammunition depot,” said the resident.
A spokesman for Yemen's internationally recognised government told The National said an explosion had taken place.
“We suspect the explosion was caused by a missile that the Iranian-backed Houthi militia failed to launch from Al Hafaa camp,” said the spokesman.
The explosion comes after the UN announced last week that a nationwide ceasefire would be extended by two months
Houthi rebels took control of Sanaa in 2014 and government was ousted the following year.
In 2015, a Saudi-led coalition intervened at the request of the internationally recognised government.