Houthis en­ter an­other city

In Ye­men, Shi­ite in­sur­gents move closer to the main gas-ex­port ter­mi­nal.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - BY ZAID AL-ALAYAA AND RAMIN MOSTAGHIM Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Al-Alayaa re­ported from Sana and spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Mostaghim from Tehran.

SANA, Ye­men — Shi­ite Mus­lim Houthi rebels seized par­tial con­trol of a pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal that is the gate­way to Ye­men’s main nat­u­ral gas ex­port ter­mi­nal, res­i­dents and of­fi­cials re­ported Thurs­day, as the Saudi-led air war en­tered its third week.

In Sana, the cap­i­tal, an aerial bom­bard­ment hit the De­fense Min­istry, send­ing up plumes of smoke and shat­ter­ing win­dows in nearby build­ings. Other strikes tar­geted the bases of Houthi in­sur­gents and their al­lies south and north of Sana.

With fight­ing grow­ing heav­ier by the day, Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani called for a cease-fire, echo­ing an ap­peal a day ear­lier by his for­eign min­is­ter. The Houthis are aligned with Iran, the re­gion’s prin­ci­pal Shi­ite Mus­lim power, though Tehran de­nies arm­ing them.

Rouhani em­pha­sized that a truce should be made for hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons, not be­cause the in­sur­gents and their al­lies were be­ing de­feated.

“Bom­bard­ment will not bring a na­tion to its knees,” he said, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial IRNA news agency. “Stop killing in­no­cent chil­dren.... Let’s cre­ate an at­mos­phere in which Ye­meni can talk to Ye­meni.”

The con­flict in Ye­men, al­ready the Arab world’s poor­est coun­try, has trig­gered a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter, with food, wa­ter, med­i­cal sup­plies and elec­tric­ity run­ning short in many ar­eas. Civil­ian ca­su­al­ties are mount­ing; at least 643 civil­ians have been killed and more than 2,200 wounded, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions.

The Saudi-led airstrikes have failed to dis­lodge the Houthis from Aden, the south­ern port city that is Ye­men’s main com­mer­cial hub. Fierce street-to-street fight­ing, some of it with heavy weapons such as field ar­tillery, con­tin­ued Thurs­day in cen­tral dis­tricts, with ex­plo­sions re­ver­ber­at­ing across the city.

Coali­tion bom­bard­ment, though said to be slow­ing the Houthis’ of­fen­sive, has not pre­vented the in­sur­gents from mak­ing ter­ri­to­rial gains. The en­try of Houthi fighters into Ataq, the cap­i­tal of Shabwa prov­ince in the east, puts them within 100 miles of the Bel­haf gas-ex­port ter­mi­nal on the Ara­bian Sea, which would be a ma­jor prize.

Shabwa is pre­dom­i­nantly Sunni Mus­lim, and Ataq is the home base of a pow­er­ful Sunni tribe. Re­ports from Ataq said the Houthis had taken over some mu­nic­i­pal of­fices and se­cu­rity com­pounds, but were ex­pected to face re­sis­tance from tribal forces.

Ye­men’s fight­ing has be­come a proxy battle waged along sec­tar­ian lines, with Iran back­ing forces loyal to ex-strongman Ali Ab­dul­lah Saleh and the Houthis, who are ad­her­ents of the Shi­ite off­shoot Zaidi sect. The coali­tion led by Sunni Mus­lim Saudi Ara­bia is seek­ing to re­store the rule of Pres­i­dent Abdu Rabu Man­sour Hadi, the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized leader of the na­tion.

Hadi was forced to flee Sana when Houthis took it over last year, and last month es­caped from his fi­nal re­doubt in Aden. He is now in Saudi Ara­bia.

The fight­ing has pro­vided cover for Al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, the Ye­meni branch of the ter­ror­ist net­work, to seize ad­di­tional ter­ri­tory. Al Qaeda mil­i­tants were re­ported to have moved into Sid­dah, a dis­trict in cen­tral Ye­men, a week af­ter seiz­ing the port city of Mukalla, where they re­main in par­tial con­trol.

The Saudi-led cam­paign of bom­bard­ment has tar­geted bases and arms caches of the Houthis and Saleh loy­al­ists. Saudi mil­i­tary spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said sig­nif­i­cant head­way was be­ing made, even though the airstrikes have failed to halt the Houthi of­fen­sive.

Asiri said weapons dumps were be­ing tar­geted daily, and that in­sur­gents’ at­tempts to hide and move arms and ammunition were be­ing thwarted.

“They are still mov­ing th­ese stores among dis­tricts, but we are mon­i­tor­ing and tar­get­ing them,” he told re­porters in Riyadh, the Saudi cap­i­tal, on Wed­nes­day evening. “Their project is fail­ing, and they can’t find safe haven.”

Asiri also played down the pres­ence of an Ira­nian de­stroyer and a sup­port ves­sel near Ye­men, say­ing they were in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters and that Ye­men’s coast was be­ing se­cured by the coali­tion. Ira­nian naval move­ments in the area are not un­com­mon, but the war­ships’ de­ploy­ment, an­nounced Wed­nes­day by Iran, was the first to wa­ters near Ye­men since the start of the Saudiled air war.

Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

TRIBAL MILI­TI­A­MEN loyal to Ye­meni Pres­i­dent Abdu Rabu Man­sour Hadi pre­pare to shell Houthi po­si­tions in the port city of Aden, where fierce street-to-street fight­ing con­tin­ued, some of it with heavy weapons.

Fayez Nureldine AFP/Getty Images

A BOR­DER GUARD is sta­tioned at a look­out point near Saudi Ara­bia’s fron­tier with Ye­men.

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