Arab coalition intensifies air war against Huthi rebels in Yemen

Friday 04/09/2015
Heaviest bombardment since air campaign began

SANAA - Powerful explosions shook the Yemeni capital Sunday, witnesses said, after the Saudi-led coalition vowed to press its air war following a rebel missile strike that killed dozens of Gulf soldiers.

The United Arab Emirates had pledged to quickly avenge its heaviest ever military loss after 45 of its soldiers were killed in Friday's missile attack, along with 10 Saudis and five Bahrainis.

The UAE is part of the Arab coalition formed in March aimed at stopping the Iran-backed rebels from taking full control of Yemen and at restoring the rule of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Complaining of marginalisation, the Shiite Huthi rebels descended from their northern stronghold last year and seized the capital Sanaa unopposed before advancing on second city Aden in March.

The latest coalition raids pounded positions of the rebels and renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to resign in 2012 following a bloody uprising.

Coalition warplanes struck military bases on the Nahdain and Fajj Attan hills and the neighbouring presidential complex, south of Sanaa, as well as a headquarters for special forces.

Also targeted were Huthi positions in the northern neighbourhoods of Sufan and Al-Nahda, forcing scores of residents to flee, the witnesses said.

Witnesses said Sunday's bombardment was one of the heaviest since the air campaign began.

"The first strike after dawn prayers shook our house," said Sadeq al-Juhayfi, a resident of Al-Haffa, southeast of Sanaa, where a military base was targeted.

Witnesses in the area said explosions were still heard around midday at the base, suggesting it housed an arms depot.

Meanwhile, normally bustling areas of the capital remained empty and shops were mostly shuttered.

Students taking exams at Abdulrazzaq al-Sanaani high school, in Hadda neighbourhood, said they abandoned their tests and fled.

"We usually get hundreds of customers... Today, workers have ran away and there are no people in the street," said Kamal al-Majidi, a waiter at a restaurant in Hadda.

The Huthis said Friday's missile attack was "revenge" for six months of deadly air raids, but the coalition vowed there would be no let-up in its air war.

The coalition launched the bombing campaign when President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia in March after the rebels entered his last refuge, Aden.

After loyalists recaptured the southern port in July, the coalition launched a ground operation that has seen the rebels pushed back from five southern provinces, although they still control Sanaa and much of the north and centre.

For the UAE, Friday's losses were the heaviest since the formation of the federation in 1971, and the oil-rich Gulf state has vowed to retaliate.

"Our revenge shall not take long," warned Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

"We will press ahead until we purge Yemen of the scum," he was quoted as saying in Emirati media.

UAE newspapers displayed images of funerals across the country for the slain soldiers, while schools in Abu Dhabi were told to observe a one-minute silence on Sunday.

National radio and television stations have played music and special koranic recitals to honour them.

The Huthis said they had used a Tochka missile to attack the Safer camp in Marib.

They hailed the strike as "revenge for the crimes and the war of extermination being carried out by the Saudi aggressor and its mercenaries".

Marib has seen fierce fighting as loyalist forces and their coalition allies have advanced north.

Loyalist military sources said the coalition had reinforced Safer this week with tanks, armoured vehicles, troop carriers, rocket launchers and Apache helicopters.

Friday's losses came as Saudi King Salman met US President Barack Obama in Washington, with Yemen high on the agenda.

Obama said the two sides "share concerns" about the need to restore a functioning government in Yemen and relieve its humanitarian crisis.

More than 4,500 people have been killed in the conflict, including hundreds of children, according to the United Nations, which has warned that Yemen is on the brink of famine.