Saudi-led coalition bombs Yemen despite calling off air campaign
CAIRO/ADEN – Saudi-led coalition warplanes bombed Yemen on Wednesday despite an announcement by Riyadh that it was ending its campaign of air strikes, while renewed fighting erupted on the ground between rebels and forces loyal to the exiled president.
The hostilities illustrated how tough it will be to find a political solution to a war stirring animosities between rival Gulf powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Tuesday’s announcement by Riyadh that it would end almost a month of air strikes against the Iranian-allied Houthis drew positive responses from both the White House and Tehran.
But hours later, air strikes and ground fighting resumed and the International Red Cross described the humanitarian situation as “catastrophic”. The rebel Houthi movement said it wanted a return to United Nations peace talks, but only after a complete halt to air strikes.
Houthi fighters meanwhile captured an army base loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the city of Taiz. A Saudi air strike hit the headquarters shortly afterwards, residents said. Coalition planes later hit rebel positions in southern Yemen with 12 more air strikes, residents said.
Also in southern Yemen, pro-Hadi militiamen fought against the Houthis and their army allies loyal to powerful ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and residents in the port of Aden reported tank shelling and automatic gunfire.
Yemen’s south has been a bulwark of resistance against the Houthi advance and locals expressed dismay at the end to Saudi strikes, which had supported their forces.
“The decision was strange and totally unexpected. Our fighters had made gains but needed more Saudi air support, now we hear the Houthis and Saleh’s people are advancing in many places,” said Aden resident Saleh Salem Ba Aqeel.
Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen shows that the Sunni monarchy will stand up to Iran and that Arab states can protect their interests without US leadership, the kingdom’s ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, told Reuters in an interview.
Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would end its campaign cast doubt over its next moves against its Houthi enemies, whose seizure of swathes of Yemen in recent months stirred Saudi fears that Iran is acquiring decisive influence in a country Riyadh sees as its backyard.
A Gulf official told Reuters that the new phase would see a downscaling of military activity by the Saudi-led coalition with no further bombing of fixed military targets.
On the political front, the official said, there was movement toward a dialogue, and that both Saleh’s followers and the Houthis should have a voice in the discussions.
Saleh welcomed the Saudi announcement and called for talks, while the Houthis have yet to react beyond calling for mass protests against the Saudi “aggression” for Thursday.