Heavy Saudi-led airstrikes targeted several airports Monday across Yemen even as the kingdom’s foreign minister said that officials were considering a cease-fire to allow aid into the Arab world’s poorest country.
In the southern city of Aden, more than 150 airstrikes hit the city’s airport, witnesses and security officials said. Houthi rebels and their allies are locked in fierce fighting there against forces loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi.
Monday’s airstrikes also hit airports in the city of Hudaida and the capital, Sanaa, witnesses and officials said. They said other airstrikes targeted Yemen’s eastern province of Marib and the Houthi stronghold of Saada, while clashes in Aden left buildings ablaze and the Saudi-led coalition airdropped weapons to tribes allied with Hadi’s government in Marib.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to talk to journalists. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity over fear of reprisals.
The United Nations said the coalition should stop targeting the capital’s airport, as it prepared a plan to set up an air bridge to airlift humanitarian workers into the country from Djibouti.
“No flights can take off or land while the runways are being repaired,” the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, said in a statement.
“I strongly urge the coalition to stop targeting Sanaa international airport and to preserve this important lifeline – and all other airports and seaports – so that humanitarians can reach all those affected by the armed conflict in Yemen.”
In the city of Loder, the second largest city of the province of Abyan, clashes between Houthis and southern fighters intensified, witnesses said.
Five civilians and six southern fighters were killed in the fighting and intensive shelling, while dozens others were wounded, according to medics at Mahnaf hospital.
Sources among the southern fighters said coalition airplanes dropped military supplies to the local militia, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
In Lahej provincial capital Al-Houta, heavy clashes left 19 people dead, including a 3-year-old girl, as well as 13 rebels, according to a local official.
Iranian-allied Houthi rebels, along with security personnel loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, have been targeted by Saudi-led airstrikes since late March. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir Monday said coalition countries were considering a cease-fire to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.
“Saudi Arabia is consulting with members of the alliance … to find specific places to deliver humanitarian assistance, during which there will be a halt of all air operations, and in specific timings to help deliver the aid,” the official Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying. Jubeir also warned Houthis against exploiting any possible halt of airstrikes, saying the kingdom will resume them over any “violations” impeding the humanitarian efforts.
More than 1,200 people have been killed in the Yemen conflict, many of those civilians, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said. Hadi’s government in exile in Saudi Arabia says at least 1,000 civilians have died. The U.N. estimates that at least 300,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin Abdullah Monday said the special forces troops fighting the Houthis in Aden were Yemenis deployed there two weeks ago after retraining in Gulf Arab countries, not foreign troops. Their smart uniforms and equipment led to reports Sunday that a Saudi-led Arab coalition had sent in ground troops after weeks of airstrikes against the rebels.
“It’s a group of the Yemeni forces. We retrained them and we send them to organize things. We are now training more and we are sending more,” Abdullah, part of Hadi’s government in exile in Riyadh, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, Senegalese Foreign Affairs Minister Mankeur Ndiaye said his country is sending 2,100 soldiers to help back the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, becoming the first sub-Saharan African country to contribute soldiers to the effort. Senegal has received significant financial investments from the kingdom in recent years.