Saudi-led coalition resumes strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen

It came as the United Nations said the death toll from fighting since late March had passed 1,000.

A worker carries luggage from a house that burnt after an air strike on a nearby missile base in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on April 23, 2015. Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
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SANAA // Saudi-led coalition warplanes launched new strikes in Yemen on Thursday despite a demand by rebels for a complete halt to the raids as a condition for UN-sponsored peace talks.

It came as the United Nations said the death toll from fighting since late March had passed 1,000.

The Saudi-led Arab alliance, which includes the UAE, declared an end to the first phase of operations against Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies on Tuesday, but vowed to keep hitting them with targeted bombing when necessary.

The latest overnight raids hit rebel positions near the capital Sanaa, around Yemen’s third city of Taez and in the central town of Yarim in Ibb province. In Taez, a Red Cross official said his team retrieved the bodies of 10 pro-government soldiers thought to have died when rebels overran a loyalist base there on Wednesday.

Residents also reported strikes in the southern provinces of Lahj and Daleh, where five rebel positions in schools and public buildings were “razed”, according to a pro-Hadi armed committees leader.

A government official said that 23 Houthis had been killed in the raids on Daleh.

Warplanes also hit rebel positions in the southern city of Aden where clashes between the rebels and fighters loyal to president Abdrabu Mansur Hadi raged on.

The Saudi-led coalition launched its air campaign on March 26 in an attempt to restore the authority of Mr Hadi, who was forced to flee abroad last month as the Houthis swept across the country.

Off land, Iranian ships were on Thursday moving north-east away from Yemen, a US official said. A convoy of Iranian cargo ships had previously prompted US concerns that Tehran was sending weapons into the region.

The US official called the move a “promising sign” but said the United States would continue to monitor to see if the ship’s course continued.

It came after the Iranian-back Houthis on Wednesday called for a complete halt to the Saudi-led air campaign so that warring parties could return to the negotiating table.

“We demand, after a complete end to the aggression against Yemen and the lifting of the blockade, to resume political dialogue ... under the sponsorship of the United Nations,” said spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon informed the security council on Thursday that he plans to appoint Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as his new envoy to lead peace efforts in Yemen.

Mr Ban said in a letter that Cheikh Ahmed would “build on the achievements” of Jamal Benomar, who resigned last week after losing support from Gulf countries for his mediation efforts.

The appointment becomes official on Monday if no objections are raised by the 15-member council.

Cheikh Ahmed recently served as the deputy head of the UN mission in Libya, and as UN coordinator in Syria from 2008 to 2012.

Mr Ban met with Gulf envoys on Monday and informed them that he planned to appoint Cheikh Ahmed and was awaiting their response to the choice.

On Wednesday, the UN chief called for “an end in fighting as soon as possible” as efforts for a return to political talks gathered pace.

At least 1,080 people were killed in the violence between March 19 and April 20, including 48 children, while a further 4,352 people were injured, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

The UN health agency receives its statistics from health facilities in Yemen, but since many people are not making it to hospitals for treatment the real numbers are probably higher.

WHO said the fighting so far had proved deadliest in the region around the capital Sanaa, where 209 people, including 21 children had been killed..

Meanwhile, a newly announced division of ISIL claimed a bombing in Yarim on Wednesday that it said had killed five rebels.

In a message on Twitter, the “Green Brigade” said it had struck a Houthi vehicle.

ISIL claimed its first attack in Yemen on March 20 – multiple suicide bombings that targeted Houthis at Shiite mosques in Sanaa that killed 142 people and wounded more than 350.

Al Qaeda has traditionally been the dominant extremist group in Yemen, exploiting the growing turmoil to expand in the country’s largely lawless south-east.

* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Reuters