Houthis say defending Yemen against militants, not targeting Aden

DUBAI (Reuters) - Houthi forces confronting fighters loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are not targeting his Aden base or any other region but merely defending the country against Islamist militants, a Houthi official said on Tuesday.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti also told Reuters that the movement saw no reason to move peace talks out of Yemen to Qatar but had not definitively rejected the idea. A Qatari foreign ministry source said earlier Doha would host talks between Yemen’s factions, although no date had been set.

“We are not targeting Aden, the South or any other region, just takfiri groups that are in some areas allied with various political forces,” Bukhaiti said by telephone, using a derogatory term for hardline Sunni Islamists who accuse Shi’ites and others of being infidels.

“What is going on now we consider self-defense and the defense of our society.”

Hadi, a former general seen by the Shi’ite Muslim Houthis as a pawn of Sunni Gulf Arab monarchies and the West, has been holed up in Aden since he fled the capital Sanaa in February.

His forces have stationed tanks and artillery on a number of roads linking north and south Yemen. An array of tribesmen, militiamen and army units loyal to Hadi are resisting the Houthis’ advance and fighting has escalated since the weekend.

Bukhaiti reiterated Houthi accusations that Hadi was seeking support from militants and referred to suicide bombings in Sanaa on Friday that killed more than 130 and were claimed by al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State.

“On the battles occurring now, Hadi has allied himself with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis and al Qaeda,” Bukhaiti said. “This coalition has directed their aggression against the Central Security Forces in Aden and in Houta and in Lahej.

“On top of this, the attacks in Sanaa happened. To combat these forces, security measures have been undertaken.”

Reporting by Noah Browning, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Angus MacSwan