Saturday 18 November 2017

Saudis launch new series of air strikes on Yemen

An injured boy waits inside a field hospital after what activists said were airstrikes and shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus.
An injured boy waits inside a field hospital after what activists said were airstrikes and shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus.

Luke Durell in Baghdad

Saudi-led air strikes have targeted Iran-backed rebels and their allies in Yemen only hours after Riyadh declared an end to a nearly month-long air campaign.

The Shiite forces later said they would welcome United Nations-led peace talks to end a conflict that has killed hundreds without dislodging them from the capital.

The rebels, known as Houthis, say they call for a resumption of dialogue and any efforts under the auspices of the UN that lead to a peaceful compromise.

"We welcome any United Nations efforts that are on the side of peaceful solutions," Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdul-Salam said in a statement, which came as thousands of angry Houthi supporters marched in the capital, Sana'a, denouncing what they described as "Saudi-American aggression."

The continuing Saudi-led strikes suggest that the American-backed offensive, aimed at restoring Yemen's internationally recognised president, is entering a new phase in which military action will be scaled back but not halted.

"If there are any military movements that are suspicious on the ground, the coalition will attack it," said Riad Kahwaji, director of the Dubai-based Institute of Near East And Gulf Military Analysis.

"There will be a support and back-up for the (pro-Hadi forces) and those supporting the legal movement in Yemen."

The air raids hit rebel positions in the southern port of Aden and central city of Taiz as ground fighting between the rebels and their allies against supporters of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi continued in both areas, Yemeni officials said. Sana'a was calm, however, as residents experienced their quietest night in almost four weeks and did not wake up to new scenes of devastation.

Late in the day, thousands of pro-Houthi demonstrators marched in the city. The strikes in Taiz hit the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, as they gathered at a military headquarters they control near the old airport to the city's southeast, officials said.

Also targeted was the southern port city of Aden, where aircraft blasted rebel forces in outlying districts.

In both areas, the Houthis are fighting alongside forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Street fighting continued in both cities, especially Taiz, where officials said pro-government forces control most of the city but have been in heavy combat with the rebels, killing dozens on both sides.

In Aden, rebels fired mortars, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to journalists.

Iran has provided political and humanitarian support to the Houthis, but both Tehran and the rebels deny it has armed them.

Yesterday, Iran welcomed the Saudi decision to halt the operation, codenamed 'Decisive Storm' and launch a new one titled 'Renewal of Hope'.

"We believe this was a positive step," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham, adding that "political cooperation" by all parties is needed to resolve the Yemen crisis.

The Saudi-led air campaign, launched March 26, was aimed at crushing the Houthis and allied military units loyal to Saleh.

But the rebels and their allies have lost little ground, and Hadi remains in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, US forces targeted Isil militants in Syria with seven air strikes yesterday and conducted 11 strikes against the group in Iraq.

Six of the strikes in Syria hit targets near Kobani, destroying Islamic State fighting positions and a vehicle and damaging tactical units, according to a military statement yesterday.

In Iraq, the strikes were concentrated near Bayji, where they hit a tactical unit and a command-and-control facility and destroyed a dump truck, motorcycle and armoured vehicle.

Coalition forces also conducted air strikes near Fallujah, Ramadi, Rawah and Tal Afar.

Irish Independent

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