Houthi forces fought battles street by street with local militia in the old centre of Aden yesterday as the first boatloads of emergency medical aid arrived to the south Yemeni port city which aid workers say faces a humanitarian catastrophe.
Residents saw a dozen bodies strewn on the streets and said several buildings were burnt or demolished by rocket fire. Mosques broadcast appeals for jihad against the Houthis, Iran-allied fighters who have taken over large areas of Yemen. By mid-afternoon, residents of the central Crater neighbourhood said the Houthi push, backed by tanks and armoured vehicles, had been at least partially repelled, and that Houthi fighters had been cleared from some northern neighbourhoods.
Iran, which denies arming the Houthis, has condemned the Saudi-led offensive. It sent two warships to the Gulf of Aden yesterday, saying they would protect Iranian shipping. Aden has been the target of a three-week-old assault by the Shi'ite Muslim fighters, who control the capital, Sanaa. Their assault prompted Tehran's regional rival Saudi Arabia and its allies to launch air strikes against the Houthis.
The fighting has had a devastating impact on parts of Aden. Scores of people have been killed, water and electricity have been cut off in central neighbourhoods, and hospitals have struggled to cope with the casualties.
"It's nearly catastrophic," said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman in Yemen, Marie Claire Feghali.
"Shops are closed, so people cannot get food, they cannot get water. There are still dead bodies in the street. Hospitals are extremely exhausted."
A boat carrying 2.5 tonnes of medicine docked in Aden on Wednesday, the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.
MSF said it was the first shipment the group had delivered to Aden since the fighting escalated.
The ICRC said a surgical team also reached Aden yesterday by boat, and was heading to a hospital in the city of one million people.
The World Health Organisation says at least 643 people have been killed in the conflict and more than 2,200 wounded. Tens of thousands of families have been displaced by fighting on the ground and by the air strikes. Saudi Arabia's leading role against the Houthis has turned Yemen into the latest theatre of a regional proxy conflict between the Gulf's leading Sunni Muslim and Shi'ite Muslim powers - a struggle also playing out in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Iran's deputy foreign minister said Yemeni factions should form a national unity government. "We in the Islamic Republic of Iran are undertaking all good initiatives and efforts that help in reaching this political solution," Morteza Sarmadi said.
Meanwhile, the US, a major Saudi ally, said it was speeding up arms supplies for the offensive, and had increased intelligence sharing and planning.