Saudi strikes con­tinue in Ye­men

Sana, the cap­i­tal, gets a respite from air war, but bat­tles rage in Taizz and Aden.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Zaid al-Alayaa and Laura King laura.king@la­times.com Twit­ter: @lau­rak­ingLAT Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Al-Alayaa re­ported from Sana and Times staff writer King from Alexan­dria, Egypt. Staff writer Brian Bennett in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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.”

Saleh al-Obeidi AFP/Getty Images

MILI­TI­A­MEN al­lied with ex­iled Ye­meni Pres­i­dent Abdu Rabu Man­sour Hadi clash with Houthi rebels and other op­po­nents in the port city of Aden.

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