REUTERS

Air strikes hit Yemen capital, U.N. envoy arrives hours before truce

World | Tue May 12, 2015 10:21am EDT

CAIRO/ADEN | By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohammed Mukhashaf

 

Saudi-led air strikes pounded the rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on Tuesday just hours before a
five-day humanitarian ceasefire was set to begin.


Looking to prepare for the truce and jumpstart stalled political talks among Yemen's civil war
factions, the new U.N. envoy to the country arrived in Sanaa, saying fighting would not resolve a
conflict that crosses ethnic and religious faultlines.


"We are convinced there is no solution to Yemen's problem except through a dialogue, which
must be Yemeni," the envoy, Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was quoted as
saying by the local Saba news agency.


Seeking to restore exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, an alliance of Gulf Arab nations
has since March 26 been bombing the Iranian-backed Houthi militia and allied army units that
control much of Yemen.


Backed by Washington, top oil exporter Saudi Arabia worries that the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi
rebels are a proxy for what they see as moves by arch-rival Iran to expand its sway in their
backyard.


Saudi-led air strikes on a rocket base in Sanaa on Monday killed 90 people and wounded 300, a
local official was quoted as telling Saba. If confirmed, the death toll would be among the highest
in a single bombing incident throughout Yemen's war.


Sanaa residents said there were three air strikes on a base for army contingents aligned with the
Houthis in the north of the capital on Tuesday, sending up a column of smoke.


IRANIAN WARSHIPS
The ceasefire was set to take effect at 11 p.m. (04:00 p.m. EDT) to allow the shipment of food
and medicine to the blockaded country, which aid groups warn faces a humanitarian catastrophe.
Iran says it will send a cargo ship full of aid to the Yemeni port of Hodaida, held by Houthi
fighters. Iranian warships will escort the vessel, a naval commander was quoted as saying by
state news agency IRNA.


"The 34th fleet, which is currently in the Gulf of Aden, has special responsibility to protect the
Iranian humanitarian aid ship," Admiral Hossein Azad said, referring to a destroyer and support
vessel in international waters off Yemen.


Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir was quoted as saying on Monday that the truce in Yemen
may be extended if "(aid deliveries) succeeded and if the Houthis and their allies don't engage in
hostile activities".


Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, said planes were poised to take
off from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates bearing 300 tonnes of sleeping mats, blankets and
tent material.


"The UNHCR is making final preparations for a huge airlift of humanitarian aid into Yemen's
Sanaa, to take place over the next days if today's proposed ceasefire comes into effect and
holds," he told a briefing in Geneva.


As the ceasefire neared, witnesses said the Saudi-led alliance bombed Houthi positions in the
southern port of Aden, where local armed groups were still fighting the rebels.


Locals said four Aden residents were killed in Houthi shelling, while four anti-Houthi militiamen
operating a tank were killed in an Arab air strike -- one of the first reported incidents of friendly
fire since the campaign began.


On Monday, the Houthis and Saudi forces exchanged heavy artillery fire along the two countries'
rugged desert border.


As of Wednesday, the U.N. agency OCHA said 1,527 people have died in the Arabian Peninsula
country's conflict, among them 646 civilians, and 6,266 have been wounded.


(Additional reporting by Sam Wilking in Dubai and Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Noah Browning;
Editing by Crispian Balmer)


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