Saudi strikes continue in Yemen
Sana, the capital, gets a respite from air war, but battles rage in Taizz and Aden.
SANA, Yemen — A scaling-back of the Saudi Arabia-led air war brought some relief Wednesday to residents of Yemen’s capital, but intensive bombardment continued in the city of Taizz, and street fighting raged in the port of Aden, the country’s commercial center.
The warring parties in Yemen — Shiite Muslim insurgents known as Houthis, defectors from the armed forces who joined them, and forces loyal to exiled President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi — pressed ahead with battles despite calls for a political solution to the conflict.
The fighting over the last month has killed nearly 1,000 people in Yemen, according to the World Health Organization, with about three times that number injured. The International Committee of the Red Cross called the humanitarian situation in the country “nothing short of catastrophic.”
Neighboring Saudi Arabia launched its air offensive nearly a month ago with the stated aim of stemming the Houthi offensive. With criticism of the campaign mounting along with civilian deaths and injuries, the kingdom indicated Tuesday that it would reduce, but not halt, bombardment and would continue to move militarily against the insurgents using other means.
But despite the Riyadh government’s claim of success in the first phase of its military operation, the insurgents and their allies continued to make gains in Yemen. Hours after the Saudi announcement, the Houthis captured a military base from Hadi loyalists in Taizz, officials said, triggering a wave of airstrikes.
In Aden and elsewhere in Yemen’s south, Houthis and pro-Hadi forces battled each other using heavy weaponry in populated areas. Aden and surrounding areas are taking the brunt of the humanitarian disaster that has built up in recent weeks, with food, fuel and medical supplies running low.
The Obama administration, which had welcomed news of the easing of the Saudi-led bombing campaign, urged that attention be turned to peace talks and the humanitarian crisis.
The Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adel Jubeir, said the kingdom and its allies will continue to strike Houthi military positions, even as the operation shifts its focus to humanitarian assistance and a political resolution.
“We will not allow them to take Yemen by force,” Jubeir said at a Washington news conference.
Jubeir denied that Saudi Arabia curtailed its airstrikes under pressure from U.S. officials concerned about mounting civilian casualties and the lack of an achievable objective.
“We are under our own pressure to try to minimize any lasting damage and to try to bring any military operations to a quick halt, and to push as firmly and as quickly as we can to a political process,” he said.
In Sana, which was overrun by the insurgents months ago, Houthis organized large street demonstrations Wednesday denouncing the Saudi-led bombing campaign, which has received logistical support from the United States. Many in the Yemeni capital, even those who oppose the Houthis, are furious with both Riyadh and Washington.
“A halt to the war should not just be a matter of words — Yemen is still under siege,” said Manal Aidroos, a dentist. “Our lives are completely turned upside down, so this pause means nothing.”
Hadi too is an increasingly unpopular figure, after a rambling late-night televised address delivered from the Saudi capital. Many blame him for inviting the Saudi intervention.
The respite from almost daily bombardment, which for weeks had usually raged through the early-morning hours, was a relief to the people in Sana. But antiaircraft fire continued to rattle the city, with coalition planes apparently carrying out surveillance of Houthiheld bases and weapons dumps.
Many in the capital expressed pessimism and said Saudi involvement had only made matters worse. Large swaths of Yemen remain under Houthi control, and the country’s branch of Al Qaeda has exploited the fighting to make gains of its own.
“This is a failed war. It has unleashed hatreds, and the bloodshed will continue between Yemenis,” said Abdul Rahman Ahmed, an office worker. “I’m not expecting peace.”
MILITIAMEN allied with exiled Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi clash with Houthi rebels and other opponents in the port city of Aden.