Coalition air strikes pile pressure on Houthis in Yemen

With pro-government fighters preparing to advance on Sanaa, Saudi Arabia-led warplanes struck rebel arms depots on Nahdain hill, south of the capital.

Yemeni tribesmen from the pro-government Popular Resistance forces flash victory signs on their armored vehicles on October 9, 2015 in the Dabab district of Taez province as they advance towards the Red Sea city of Mokha. Nabil Hassan/AFP Photo
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SANAA // Warplanes from the Saudi Arabia-led coalition supporting pro-government Yemeni forces raided rebel positions east of the capital yesterday, military sources said.

The air strikes targeted the Iranian-backed Houthis in the west of Marib province, amid ongoing clashes between the rebels and forces loyal to president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi.

Pro-Hadi fighters, backed by coalition forces that include troops from the UAE, are preparing to advance on the capital Sanaa.

Last night, coalition warplanes struck rebel arms depots on Nahdain hill, south of Sanaa, witnesses said.

The attacks came as Brig Gen Ahmed Al Assiri, a Saudi spokesman for the coalition, told Al Arab television that the coalition had not received a pledge from the Houthi leadership to commit to a ceasefire and recognise the legitimate government of Mr Hadi.

“If that happens, it will be announced formally by the Yemeni government and the United Nations,” he said.

His remarks came after the Houthis and their allies told mediators on Wednesday that they were ready to accept a United Nations peace agreement after suffering repeated military defeats.

Under the plan, they would have to accept a UN Security Council resolution calling for rebels to withdraw from territories they had captured and for them to hand over weapons and equipment they had seized from Yemen’s military.

Meanwhile, the Houthis and allied fighters loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh tightened their siege on the western city of Taez, preventing the entry of medical supplies and water. Taez is controlled by government loyalists and has been shelled by the rebels for months. Securing Taez would allow pro-government forces to push north towards Sanaa.

Pro-government fighters were also advancing on the nearby Red Sea port of Mokha, which is located along rebel supply lines to Taez, said Brig Gen Samir Al Haj.

In response, the Houthis have deployed fighters to Turba, a largely abandoned town that leads to Taez’s barely-defended south-eastern areas, according to the rebels’ officials.

In July, Hadi loyalists backed by coalition forces liberated the port city of Aden, to which the government returned last month after six months in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Also on Friday, raids targeted rebels in Hodeida, in western Yemen, other military sources said.

After they overran Sanaa in September 2014, the Houthis widened their control to several Yemeni provinces, advancing in March on Aden, where Mr Hadi had taken refuge before fleeing to Riyadh.

The coalition then launched a fierce air campaign against them and Mr Saleh’s loyalists.

The coalition has been criticised for the civilian death toll in its campaign. On Wednesday, it denied its warplanes had bombed a wedding in a Houthi-held town, dismissing the report as rebel propaganda. “We did not conduct any operation in Dhamar,” said Brig Gen Al Assiri, referring to the province where the strike allegedly took place.

“No strikes there. Definitely.”

“Targeting remains difficult in the current environment ... lack of intelligence and deliberate acts of perfidy by Houthis and loyalists,” said Andreas Krieg, a professor in the department of defence studies at King’s College London.

“I think that these attacks were committed by Houthi rebels or loyalists trying to intimidate local communities. Locals tend to think that they were targeted by air strikes,” added Mr Krieg, who also serves as a consultant to the Qatari armed forces.

The UN says at least 2,355 civilians have been killed in Yemen since March.

* Wam, Agence France-Presse