Fight­ing in Ye­men city kills nearly 200

Saudi-led airstrikes haven’t been able to turn back Houthi rebels in Aden.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Zaid al-Alayaa Al-Alayaa is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent. Times staff writer W.J. Hen­ni­gan in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

SANA, Ye­men — In­tense fight­ing in cen­tral dis­tricts of the port city of Aden has killed nearly 200 peo­ple in re­cent days, med­i­cal of­fi­cials said Mon­day, as the Saudiled mil­i­tary coali­tion pressed ahead with its bomb­ing cam­paign against Shi­ite Mus­lim rebels.

Ye­men’s cap­i­tal, Sana, was hit by heavy airstrikes an­swered by an­ti­air­craft fire, and nearly a dozen civil­ians were re­ported killed in an out­ly­ing area of the city. The 11 civil­ians killed in the vil­lage of Bayt Re­jal, west of Sana, in­cluded three chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to med­i­cal of­fi­cials, who said two dozen peo­ple were hurt.

Amid warn­ings from in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions of an im­pend­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter, most for­eign gov­ern­ments have shut­tered their em­bassies. China was the lat­est, closing its em­bassy in Sana and its con­sulate in Aden. Ships have been pluck­ing stranded for­eign­ers to safety, but ap­proach­ing the port of Aden has be­come too un­safe for most.

In Wash­ing­ton, the Saudi am­bas­sador to the United States, Adel Jubeir, said the airstrikes by Saudi war­planes have the Houthi rebels on the run, caus­ing them to dis­perse in ur­ban ar­eas, where they are us­ing civil­ians as hu­man shields.

“They are los­ing,” he told re­porters at the Saudi Em­bassy.

“To let them keep any of their ill-got­ten gains would not be re­spon­si­ble. It would just en­cour­age more bad be­hav­ior.”

How­ever, in Aden, Ye­men’s com­mer­cial hub, nearly two weeks of Saudiled airstrikes have been un­able to turn back an of­fen­sive by the Houthi in­sur­gents. But the Iran-backed rebels have not been able to strike a de­ci­sive blow and seize the city.

Aden was the last re­doubt of Pres­i­dent Abdu Rabu Man­sour Hadi, who fled the coun­try last month. The Saudi cam­paign is aimed at restor­ing his rule, but it has ex­ac­er­bated sec­tar­ian ten­sion not only in Ye­men but around the re­gion. Iran is the main Shi­ite power and Saudi Ara­bia its chief Sunni ri­val.

Ac­cord­ing to Jubeir, Houthi forces have es­tab­lished com­mand cen­ters in res­i­den­tial ar­eas and ho­tels to in­cur civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and turn public per­cep­tion against the Saudis. But he in­sisted that Saudi airstrikes have been ac­cu­rate and have avoided hit­ting non­com­bat­ants.

“You can never be sure about [civil­ian ca­su­al­ties] in war­fare,” he said. “But we ex­er­cise ex­treme cau­tion.”

In the near term, there are no plans to in­tro­duce ground troops in Ye­men, Jubeir said.

“No op­tions are taken off the ta­ble, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “Right now, we’re in the air phase.”

Houthis, mean­while, con­tin­ued ar­rest­ing mem­bers of the Sunni po­lit­i­cal party Is­lah. More than 135 mem­bers are in rebel cus­tody, of­fi­cials said.

The fight­ing has given an open­ing to Ye­men’s branch of Al Qaeda, which seized the south­east­ern port of Mukalla last week, free­ing hun­dreds of pris­on­ers and loot­ing the lo­cal branch of the Cen­tral Bank.

Un­til the cur­rent con­flict erupted, the United States was car­ry­ing out regular drone strikes against Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, as the Ye­meni af­fil­i­ate is known.

Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

IN­DIAN NA­TION­ALS line up for evac­u­a­tion from war-rav­aged Ye­men at the port city of Hu­day­dah.

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