South Yemen clashes kill dozens as ceasefire nears end
Fierce clashes between rebels and pro-government forces killed dozens across south Yemen on Saturday, threatening to derail a humanitarian ceasefire drawn up to bring vital aid to the war-wracked country.
The five-day truce initiated by a Saudi-led coalition that has bombarded the Iran-backed rebels for more than six weeks expires late Sunday, and Riyadh has already warned it was “ready to act” against any ceasefire violations.
In the latest violence, at least 12 civilians were killed when the Shiite Huthi rebels shelled several neighbourhoods in Yemen’s third city of Taez, an official there told AFP.
Fighting overnight killed 26 rebels — Huthis backed by militiamen loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh — as well as 14 pro-government forces, military sources said.
The United Nations has expressed deep concern about the civilian death toll from the Saudi-led bombing as well as the humanitarian impact of an air and sea blockade imposed by the coalition.
It says more than 1,500 people have died in the conflict since late March.
Some aid has begun to trickle into Yemen since the pause in fighting, but residents of areas where clashes persist complain they remain without the most basic supplies.
The fighting in Taez overnight forced many to flee to neighbouring countryside.
“Humanitarian aid hasn’t reached Taez, where we haven’t received fuel, food or medical equipment,” the government official in the city said.
The United Nations has called for the Saudi-led coalition to simplify import inspections after warning vital commercial goods and aid were still blocked.
UN coordinator Johannes van der Klaauw warned that the inspections, introduced under an arms embargo slapped on the Huthi rebels last month, were hampering access for vital goods.
“The arms embargo and its inspection regime results in commercial goods, be it by air or by ship, no longer reaching the country,” he told journalists in Geneva via a conference call from Yemen.
The UN Security Council hit the Huthis with the embargo after they captured the capital Sanaa and advanced on the southern city of Aden, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.
– Soldiers captured –
The Huthis and their allies have pledged to honour the ceasefire while Saudi Arabia has warned it will punish any attempt to exploit the truce.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused the Huthis of repeatedly violating ceasefire terms.
“We are hoping that the Huthis will abide by the terms of the ceasefire and stop their aggressive behaviour if they want the ceasefire to hold,” he said during a US summit with Gulf allies this week.
But clashes had resumed in Aden by Saturday, an AFP correspondent said.
Heavy artillery, including tank shells, fell on the northern sector of the city, where rebels and Hadi loyalists continue to fight over territory, including a main road giving access to central Aden, military souces said.
West Aden was also hit by shelling, they added.
And in southern Dhaleh province, five Huthis were killed overnight when their convoy was ambushed, an official said.
The chaos in Yemen has been exploited by armed groups, including the country’s branch of Al-Qaeda, which is viewed by the United States as the world’s most dangerous.
Twenty Yemeni soldiers were kidnapped by suspected Al-Qaeda members overnight in the southern port of Mukalla, an official said.
The extremist group has controlled Mukalla, the capital of Yemen’s vast desert Hadramawt province, since April and has for months claimed deadly attacks against Yemen’s government-controlled armed forces.
The official said Al-Qaeda militants seized the soldiers late Friday after accusing them of supporting the Huthis.