Yemen’s Houthi rebels have called for the full withdrawal of a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates after the latter said it had begun reducing its deployment in the war-torn country.
“We call on the aggressors to withdraw from Yemen, as the Republic of Yemen rejects aggression, siege and air embargo,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Houthi rebels’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, tweeted on Monday.
“Withdrawing from Yemen is the ideal decision that must be taken at this time,” he added.
Yemen’s latest conflict broke out in late 2014 when the Houthis, allied with forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, seized much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.
The war escalated in March 2015 when the Saudi-UAE-led coalition launched a ferocious air campaign against the rebels in a bid to restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Since then, tens of thousands of civilians and combatants have been killed and as many as 85,000 children may have starved to death.
A senior UAE official said on Monday the country would reduce its troop presence in Yemen, moving from a “military-first” to a “peace-first” strategy.
“We do have troop levels that are down for reasons that are strategic in (the Red Sea port city of) Hodeida and reasons that are tactical” in other parts of the country, a senior UAE official, who requested anonymity, was quoted as saying by news agencies.
According to the unnamed UAE official, the Gulf state pulled out some of its forces from areas including the southern port of Aden and the western coast.
The UAE official emphasised his country’s continued support for Saudi Arabia, saying discussions on troops’ movements had been coordinated for more than a year.
“This is not really a last-minute decision. This is part of the process within the coalition that’s been discussed extensively with our partners, the Saudis.”
Gamal Gasim, a political science professor at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, told Al Jazeera the UAE’s redeployment was contrary to Saudi Arabia’s strategy of crushing the Iran-aligned rebels.
“The UAE more likely intends to split Yemen into two countries of South and North where it will have influence and dominance over the southern part. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is more interested in defeating the Houthis and ending Iranian influence,” Gasim said.