Houthi drone attack ratchets up Yemen tensions

A day before the drone attack, a ballistic missile exploded as the Houthis were apparently trying to launch it towards Saudi Arabia.
Sunday 13/01/2019
Soldiers inspect the scene of a Houthi drone attack at Al Anad Airbase in Lahij province, January 10. (Reuters)
Calculated escalation? Soldiers inspect the scene of a Houthi drone attack at Al Anad Airbase in Lahij province, January 10. (Reuters)

ADEN - In what could greatly hamper the Yemeni peace efforts, Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels launched a drone attack on a military base in the southern government-controlled Lahij province, killing six soldiers.

Although the attack did not violate the deal negotiated in December in Sweden over fighting for the port of Hodeidah, it could lead to renewed violence jeopardising the prospect of future peace talks.

The attack occurred January 10 during a military parade at Al Anad Airbase. In addition to the six soldiers killed, senior commanders in the army of Yemen’s internationally recognised government were injured.

Among them were Chief of Staff Major-General Abdullah al-Nakhi, Brigadier-General Thabet Jawas, spokesman for the Fourth Military Zone Mohammed al-Naqib and Lahij Governor Ahmed Abdullah al-Turki, Sky News Arabia reported.

The Houthis’ Al Masirah television said the Houthi “drone force” had attacked troops at Al Anad.

“The attack may be the final nail in the coffin of the [ceasefire] agreement,” said Yemeni military expert Colonel Yahya Abuhatm. “There must be a severe response by the national army on various fronts while also galvanising political and diplomatic efforts to highlight to the international community the true face of the Houthis.”

The government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued a statement calling the attack a “blatant challenge” to the international community and that it represented a “clear indication” that the Houthis rejected efforts to reach a political settlement to end the war.

“The crime of targeting the base will not go unanswered and the government will take a strong and firm position,” Yemeni Information Minister Muammar al-Iriyani wrote on Twitter.

The timing of the attack, he wrote, was a “strong blow” to UN-sponsored peace efforts in Yemen.

The Houthi militia and Yemeni government officials signed an agreement in December for a ceasefire in Hodeidah province. However, the Yemeni government has complained of many truce breaches by the rebels.

The drone attack came while UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths was trying to convince warring factions to agree to further peace talks. He met recently with the Houthi militia in Sana’a and with Hadi in Riyadh.

Griffiths, writing on Twitter, said he was alarmed by the escalation of violence and urged “all parties to the conflict to exercise restraint and refrain from further escalation.”

A day before the drone attack, a ballistic missile exploded as the Houthis were apparently trying to launch it towards Saudi Arabia, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reported. It said the missile exploded on its platform in Saada province, killing 15 people, including

“military experts.”

The Yemeni government, its supporters in the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United States have blamed Iran for upgrading the Houthis’ military capabilities, especially its drone attacks.

A 2018 UN report on a study of the Houthis’ Qatef-1 drone said the weapon was assembled from components supplied by an outside source and shipped into Yemen and that its design, dimensions and capability were identical to the Iran-made Ababil-T drone.

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