At least 40 people were killed Monday in an airstrike on a refugee camp in north-western Yemen, an official said as Houthi rebels advanced on the southern city of Aden despite air raids by a Saudi-led coalition. About 200 people were wounded in the airstrike on the Mazraq refugee camp in Hajah province near Saada, Joel Millman, spokesman for the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, said, citing reports from the agency’s staff in the area. The camp houses nearly 5,000 people.
The Houthis are suspected of having moved anti-aircraft guns to the area, local officials said. Houthi politburo member Ali al-Quhum claimed that hundreds of civilians were killed in at least four airstrikes on the camp, but the Saudis have repeatedly accused the Houthis of moving their military hardware into residential areas.
In the south, Houthi insurgents were positioned about 30 kilometres east of Aden, the stronghold of embattled President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, the Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya reported. The Houthis are besieging the port city from all directions. Warplanes from the Arab coalition bombarded a Houthi convoy of military vehicles carrying weapons east of Aden on Monday, a local official said.
“Columns of smoke are rising in the area as a result of an explosion caused by the airstrikes,” the official said by telephone.
Fierce battles was under way between Houthi fighters and pro-Hadi militiamen in and around Aden, according to the official.
“The situation in the city is very bad. There are more than 60 dead bodies and 401 wounded people lying in hospitals because of the fighting in the last two days,” he added on the condition of anonymity.
“Nearly 40 of the wounded people are in a critical condition and need medical treatment abroad,” the official said.
Saudi Arabia and eight fellow Sunni Arab countries launched the military operations in Yemen Thursday as the Shiite Houthis and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh made a push on Aden. Last month, Hadi took refuge in Aden after fleeing the rebel-held capital, Sana’a, and house arrest there under the Houthis. He later declared Aden a temporary capital.
Hadi is now in Saudi Arabia, which shares a border of about 1,500 kilometres with impoverished Yemen. The Saudis have vowed to press ahead with the bombing until Hadi is reinstated, raising the spectre of a wider conflict with Shiite Iran, which is widely understood to back the Houthis, whose base is in the north but who now control large parts of Yemen. Tehran has condemned the Saudi-led intervention.
The Arab coalition has unleashed a series of airstrikes over the past few days against the Houthis’ northern heartland of Saada near the Saudi border. On Monday, the coalition jets mounted fresh strikes against Houthi targets in Sana’a, including the presidential palace and military facilities.
There were no reports of casualties.
A Saudi spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmad Asiri, insisted late Monday, that the coalition is carefully selecting it targets. Warplanes targeted a missile storage site and destroyed it and would continue to target missile targets, particularly mobile missile units, he said.
Asiri, who did not mention the refugee camp that was hit, stressed that a “great intelligence effort is being exerted to determine the locations of those hidden machines by the Houthi militias inside homes and residential areas.”
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia started joint military exercises with its key ally Pakistan near the border with Yemen.
Major General Fares bin Abdullah, a senior Saudi commander, told the state news agency SPA that the drills were part of a series of pre-planned exercises aimed at enhancing the kingdom’s military efficiency.
In Pakistan, military spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said in a statement that 292 Pakistan troops were in Saudi Arabia to take part in the exercises which began March 19 in Taif. SAPA