Coali­tion bombs air­port run­way in Ye­men cap­i­tal

Con­flict­ing re­ports emerge re­gard­ing ex­tent of dam­age suf­fered by fa­cil­ity

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - REGION -

SANAA: The Saudi-led mil­i­tary coali­tion fight­ing Ye­men’s Houthi rebels bombed the air­port in the rebel-held cap­i­tal, Sanaa, Tues­day, Ye­meni of­fi­cials said, al­though there were con­flict­ing re­ports as to the ex­ten­sion of dam­age caused in the strike.

The U.N. said most of the air­port re­mained in­tact and that it would be able to re­ceive aid ship­ments once they restart – af­ter the coali­tion loosens the block­ade of the war-torn coun­try as it had an­nounced.

How­ever, Ye­meni of­fi­cials in Sanaa, which is held by the Houthi rebels, said that the air­ports run­way and a ground nav­i­ga­tion tower were dam­aged. Re­pair crews were al­ready at work, they added, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity as they were not au­tho­rized to talk to re­porters.

The strike “led to the to­tal de­struc­tion of the VOR/DME ra­dio nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem, tak­ing it off­line and thus halt­ing the only flights at Sanaa air­port – those of the United Na­tions and other in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions de­liv­er­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance,” the rebel-run Gen­eral Au­thor­ity for Civil Avi­a­tion said in a state­ment.

Jamie McGoldrick of the U.N. Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs said U.N. staff had vis­ited the air­port and spo­ken with au­thor­i­ties there, and that its “run­way, taxi­way, ramp, ter­mi­nal and air traf­fic con­trol tower were not hit and are in good con­di­tion.”

“This will have no im­pact on our op­er­a­tions once they re­sume,” McGoldrick said in an email from Amman, Jor­dan.

The U.S.-backed coali­tion has been at war in Ye­men with the rebels, known as Houthis, since March 2015. The coali­tion closed all Ye­men air, land and sea ports last week in re­sponse to a rebel bal­lis­tic mis­sile at­tack on Riyadh.

The coali­tion said Mon­day that it would re­open ports in ar­eas held by al­lied forces and loosen re­stric­tions it had raised af­ter the fir­ing of the mis­sile, which was in­ter­cepted near Riyadh’s in­ter­na­tional air­port.

How­ever, McGoldrick said ear­lier in the day that there was “no in­di­ca­tion” the coali­tion was ac­tu­ally lift­ing the block­ade in line with its an­nounce­ment.

He said that coali­tion an­nounce­ments of the avail­abil­ity of two ports in south­ern Ye­men are “help­ful,” but that the key need is ac­cess to the rebel-held Red Sea ports of Salif and Hu­daida, closer to large pop­u­la­tion cen­ters, which are cur­rently in­ac­ces­si­ble to U.N. aid ship­ments. Both ports are in rebel-held ter­ri­tory.

The United Na­tions dis­missed a Sau­dide­mandthat­tigh­terin­spec­tions be put in place at Hu­daida port be­fore a dev­as­tat­ing block­ade is lifted.

The re­ported airstrike on Sanaa air­port came as flights re­sumed to the air­port in the gov­ern­ment-held south­ern city of Aden, af­ter the coali­tion granted per­mis­sion for them to re­sume.

An of­fi­cial with the na­tional car­rier, Ye­me­nia, an­nounced a com­mer­cial flight from Cairo had landed in Aden and later de­parted, in first in a week.

“The flights will in­crease grad­u­ally in the com­ing days,” the of­fi­cial said, addingYe­me­ni­a­woul­dresumeits­four weekly flights from Aden to Cairo, two to Jed­dah and Riyadh, three to Amman and one to Khar­toum.

Aden’s port, which is con­trolled by al­lies of Saudi Ara­bia, does not have the ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to the U.N., to

han­dle the nec­es­sary vol­ume of hu­man­i­tar­ian cargo and would mean haz­ardous cross-line de­liv­er­ies.

In other de­vel­op­ments Tues­day, Daesh (ISIS) struck a fresh blow to Saudi-al­lied forces in the coun­try’s south, where a sui­cide car bomb­ing

tar­geted se­cu­rity forces in Aden, killing at least six peo­ple and wound­ing scores.

The Daesh-claimed at­tack took place at a build­ing in the Sheikh Oth­man district in the cen­tral part of the city. Res­i­dents sev­eral kilo­me­ters away heard a large ex­plo­sion and saw thick black smoke ris­ing from the area. The at­tack caused panic in this densely pop­u­lated area, which is busy with schools, mar­kets and street ven­dors.

Am­bu­lances rushed to the site, where the build­ing was badly dam­aged, and de­bris and body parts lit­tered the area.

Ac­cord­ing to med­i­cal of­fi­cials, six sol­diers were killed but of­fi­cials be­lieve the death toll will rise. The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rized to speak to the me­dia.

The se­cu­rity build­ing is an op­er­a­tions cen­ter for the Se­cu­rity Belt, a par­al­lel body to the gov­ern­ment’s forces that is trained by the United Arab Emi­rates, a main pil­lar in the Saudi-led coali­tion. –

Se­cu­rity per­son­nel or­ga­nized by the Saudi-led coali­tion gather at the site of a sui­cide car bomb at­tack out­side a po­lice forces camp in Aden, Ye­men.

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