Air strikes hit Yemen Republican Guard camps, Geneva talks struggle
SANAA/GENEVA – Saudi-led warplanes bombed elite Republican Guard forces allied with the dominant Houthi faction in Yemen’s civil war on Friday, residents said, as UN diplomats in Geneva struggled to nudge the various sides towards a ceasefire deal.
More than 2,600 people have been killed since an Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia launched air strikes to try to stop the Iranian-backed Houthis from completing a takeover of Yemen and to try to reinstate exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
Residents said they heard three air raids on the al-Sawad camp, in a southern suburb of the capital Sanaa where the command of the Republican Guards allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis is based, early on Friday.
Three air strikes were also reported in the Khawlan region, southeast of Sanaa, six on a camp that houses the Houthi-allied 115th Infantry Brigade in the al-Hazm district of al-Jouf province, and three more on Houthi positions on the outskirts of the embattled southern port city of Aden.
Residents gave no details on casualties, but the Houthis reported that nine civilians were killed in air strikes on the Razeh district of the northern province of Saada, the Houthis’ traditional stronghold bordering on Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis, who hail from the Zaydi branch of Shi’ite Islam, swept out of Saada province and seized Sanaa in September before surging on into Aden, forcing Hadi and his government into exile in Saudi Arabia.
The group denies drawing military support from Shi’ite Iran and says it is waging a campaign against state corruption and Sunni Muslim al Qaeda militants who gained strength in the south during a 2011 uprising that spread anarchy and ousted Saleh.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, intervened militarily out of concern for what it sees as a growing Iranian sway in the Arabian Peninsula, but the coalition has yet to significantly reverse Houthi territorial gains.
In Geneva, UN special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, pressed on with shuttle diplomacy to try to coax Yemeni factions, including representatives of the Houthis, Saleh’s General People’s Congress party and Hadi’s allies, towards agreeing conditions for a ceasefire.
They have so far refused to sit at the same table and continued on Friday to show no inclination for compromise.
Hadi’s government has demanded that the Houthis quit cities seized since last September as a precondition for a ceasefire.
Yahya Duwaid of Saleh’s General People’s Congress said:
“We had reason to be hopeful and optimistic for the meetings today, and we listened to the U.N. proposals today, but unfortunately, what they were proposing was not of the standard that we were looking for.”
UN spokesman Ahmed Fawzi said Hadi’s exiled government delegation was currently booked to fly out of Geneva on Saturday and the Houthi delegates on Sunday, but the talks could be extended before then.
“He (Ould Sheikh Ahmed) is working very hard to reach (a truce) so that we can also agree a mechanism not only to monitor the cessation but to deliver aid as quickly as possible.”
The United Nations on Friday launched a revised humanitarian appeal of $1.6 billion for Yemen this year.
“We have a humanitarian catastrophe on our hands, we have 21 million people in desperate need of aid. We are talking about children going hungry,” Fawzi said. –Reuters