Coalition wrecks Yemen runway after Iran defies blockade

It comes as a UN agency warns that more than 300,000 Yemenis have been driven from their homes by a month of violence in the Arab nation – double the number only two weeks ago.
Smoke billows from the international airport of Yemen's capital Sanaa after it was hit by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition, which bombed the runway to prevent an Iranian plane from landing in Sanaa airport through an unauthorised route.  Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
Smoke billows from the international airport of Yemen's capital Sanaa after it was hit by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition, which bombed the runway to prevent an Iranian plane from landing in Sanaa airport through an unauthorised route. Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

SANAA // Saudi-led coalition warplanes destroyed the runway at Sanaa’s rebel-held airport on Tuesday after an Iranian plane “defied” a blockade on Yemeni airspace, the spokesman for the alliance said.

Brigadier General Ahmed Al Assiri said the pilot of the Iranian plane dismissed the coalition’s warnings not to fly in to Sanaa airport after entering through an unauthorised route.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA said Saudi jets tried to force what it said was an aid plane back after it entered Yemeni airspace, but the pilots had ignored these “illegal warnings”.

The jets then bombed Sanaa airport as the plane was making an approach to land, forcing it to turn back, IRNA said. It said the plane, belonging to the Red Crescent, was carrying food and medical aid to Sanaa.

IRNA said the plane had been given permission to fly the route by Oman, whose airspace it passed through, and the Houthi militia which controls Sanaa airport.

The bombing of the runway made it unusable for planned aid flights, said Brig Gen Assiri. He said the coalition would help to repair the runway if the Houthis lifted their control of the airport.

It comes as a UN agency said on Tuesday that more than 300,000 Yemenis have been driven from their homes by a month of violence in the Arab nation – double the number only two weeks ago.

The report by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) came as warplanes from the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday continued to pound positions of the Houthi rebels and allied troops loyal to ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital of Sanaa, and in the south.

The three cities of Dhale, Aden and Taiz – the third largest city in Yemen – have been declared “disaster zones” by the internationally-recognised government in exile, which said the humanitarian situation is on verge of collapse.

The Houthi militia, which has strong relations with Iran, controls most of western Yemen including Sanaa.

The strikes and ground fighting between the Houthis and forces loyal to the government in exile in Riyadh have worsened an existing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, aid agencies say.

Since March 26, the US-backed alliance of Saudi Arabia and Arab countries has been carrying out airstrikes against the Houthis and Saleh’s forces, trying to stop their advance south after they captured Sanaa and much of the country’s north last year.

The Saudi- and Western-backed president, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, was forced to flee abroad by the Houthi advance and is currently in Riyadh.

In the early morning hours, multiple explosions shook Sanaa as warplanes struck several rebel-held army camps, trucks carrying weapons and houses turned into weapons’ depots for the Houthis, according to residents and officials.

The US, Saudi Arabia and their allies accuse Iran of arming the Houthis, a claim that Tehran and the rebels deny.

Heavy smoke blanketed Sanaa, said residents. In Sanaa’s northern district of Al Nahda, several strikes hit large caches of weapons stored inside the villas of two top Shiite rebel leaders, officials said.

Other airstrikes hit the southern port city of Aden, scene of weeks of fierce fighting as Houthis and pro-Saleh troops try to wrest the city from local militias and Hadi loyalists. Tuesday’s strikes hit a police commando camp run by pro-Saleh commanders.

OCHA said on Tuesday that because of the “escalating conflict” in 19 provinces, the number of Yemenis displaced from their homes has more than doubled since the 150,000 figure recorded on April 17. It said the highest numbers of displaced were in Hajjah province in the north and two southern provinces, Dhale and Abyan.

Militiamen battling rebels around Aden and Dhale have said that they are running out of ammunition, and a senior official in Mr Hadi’s office said Saudi Arabia is trying to find ways to arm them.

* Agencies

Published: April 28, 2015 04:00 AM

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