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Saudi-led warplanes pound arms depots in Yemen

Saudi-led warplanes pound arms depots in Yemen

ADEN: The humanitarian situation in Yemen has become catastrophic, the Red Cross said on Monday, as Saudi-led aircraft pounded Houthi militiamen and rebel army units for a second day, dashing hopes for a pause in fighting to let aid in.

Residents said warplanes flew between 15 and 20 sorties against groups of Houthi fighters and arms depots in the al-Dhalea provincial capital, Dhalea, and the nearby city of Qa’ataba, between dawn and 0900 local time (0600 GMT), setting off a chain of explosions that lasted for two more hours.

Fighting intensified on Sunday, after a lull following an announcement by Riyadh last week that it was ending its nearly five-week-old bombing campaign except in places where the Houthis were advancing, to allow access for food and medicine.

A coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, rattled by what they saw as expanding Iranian influence in the Arabian Peninsula, is trying to stop Houthi fighters and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Salah taking control of Yemen.

But the air campaign has had little success and vital aid was reported to be being held up by both sides. Houthis were stopping convoys of trucks reaching Aden and an arms blockade by Saudi-led coalition navies searching ships for weapons was holding up food deliveries by sea.

“It was difficult enough before, but now there are just no words for how bad it’s gotten,” said International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman Marie Claire Feghali. “It’s a catastrophe, a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Telecommunications within Yemen and with the outside world could be cut within days due to a shortage of fuel, state-run news agency Saba quoted the director of telecommunications as saying. Fuel shortages were also preventing traders from moving food to market, the United Nations’ World Food Programme said.

Saudi-led warplanes also struck the area around the presidential compound in Sanaa for a second day, while heavy street fighting was under way in the strategic city of Taiz in central Yemen, according to residents and the ICRC. There were no immediate reports on the extent of casualties.

Hisham Abdul Wahab, a resident of a Sanaa district hit by a big blast last week, said he had tried but failed to stay on.

“Some people began returning to the neighbourhood, but the strikes began again and now they’re leaving a second time. The place is devastated: there are no roads, no water and no electricity. Nobody’s left but thieves,” he said.

Fighting has killed more than 1,000 people, including an estimated 551 civilians since the bombings started on March 26, the United Nations said on Friday. Its children’s agency Unicef said at least 115 children were among the dead.

Saudi Arabia says it was concerned for its own security and Yemen’s stability after Houthi forces captured the capital and began advancing across the country, on its southern border, in September.

The Houthis allege President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fostered militants linked to Al Qaeda and corrupt officials. Mr Hadi, who fought Al Qaeda before fleeing the Houthi advance, says the militant group is as much a threat to Yemen as it had always been.

Riyadh says it wants to restore Mr Hadi, now in exile in Saudi Arabia, and prevent Yemen from disintegrating.

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2015

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