Arab coalition loses two pilots in helicopter crash on Yemen border

Friday 21/08/2015
Nervous reactions expose confusion of Huthi rebels

RIYADH - A helicopter from the Saudi-led forces battling anti-government fighters in Yemen crashed along the Saudi border, killing the two pilots, the coalition said Saturday.

"The two pilots fell as martyrs when their aircraft crashed while they were defending the borders of Saudi Arabia from these aggressors," the coalition said in a statement published by the official SPA news agency.

It said that the Apache helicopter went down in the Jazan region of the kingdom, adding that an inquiry had been launched into the causes of the crash.

Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels said Friday night that they had shot down a Saudi Apache in the same region.

The rebel-controlled Saba news agency cited a military source saying the Huthis had also destroyed six Saudi military vehicles in the area.

Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of predominantly Sunni Arab countries conducting air strikes on anti-government fighters in Yemen since late March.

In another development, Yemen's president is proposing a 15-day cease-fire that would coincide with the withdrawal of Shiite rebel militias from all government institutions and military installations and all cities and provinces — even the province they call home.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's proposal was given to the UN envoy for Yemen in Saudi Arabia's capital on Thursday, and Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was heading to Oman on Friday to meet with Houthi representatives to discuss it, according to a UN diplomat.

Yemen's government has expressed support for a cease-fire in the past, but this might be its first formal proposal for one.

The proposal, dated Thursday, calls for the Huthi rebels and allied troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to immediately implement a UN Security Council resolution which demands an end to violence and a swift return to UN-led peace talks.

Hadi's proposal comes after pro-government troops, backed by a Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes, regained strategic ground from the rebels, including the southern port of Aden. They now push north toward the capital, Sanaa.

Yemen's government has repeatedly demanded that the Huthis withdraw. With government forces retaking territory and the Huthis on the defensive, it remains to be seen if the two sides will be more amenable to talking. An attempt at UN-brokered talks in Geneva in June failed.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in the Arab world's poorest country since March, when the U.S.-backed coalition began launching airstrikes against the rebels who have seized control of the capital Sanaa and other cities. Hadi, who was forced to flee, is now in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Past attempts at a humanitarian pause in the fighting have failed, and coalition restrictions on air and sea ports have made aid delivery a challenge. UN officials warned this week that the conflict has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Hadi's proposal would commit both sides to a 15-day cease-fire that could be extended "in conjunction with the withdrawal of the Huthi-Saleh militias from military and civil institutions of the state, all cities and provinces including Sanaa and Saadah."

Both sides also would agree to allow U.N. military observers to monitor implementation of the withdrawal, the return of heavy and medium weapons to the government and the demobilization of child soldiers.

"If the truce is breached by the Huthi-Saleh militias, it will be dealt with firmly," the proposal says.

It also calls for activation of UN sanctions, which include an arms embargo on Huthi leaders, Saleh and his son.

The proposed agreement also would order Huthi militias not to interfere in the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid.