Yemen commander of vast military district pledges support to President Hadi

Sunday 17/04/2016
Huthis rarely acknowledge their losses

ADEN (Yemen) - The Yemeni commander of a vast military district covering half the country's border with Saudi Arabia pledged support to Saudi-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi on Sunday, local officials said.

The announcement puts at least 15,000 troops in the desert border area on the same side as the kingdom, the world's top oil exporter, after three weeks of an inconclusive bombing campaign it has led against Iran-allied Huthi rebels.

Clashes between rebels and pro-government forces in Yemen and Saudi-led air strikes killed 44 people, medics and local sources said Sunday, as Riyadh pledged to cover a UN humanitarian aid appeal.

The UN says hundreds of people have died and thousands of families fled their homes since the air war was launched on March 26 at the request of embattled President Hadi.

Ten Huthi rebels and four members of the "popular committees" militia fighting on the side of Hadi were killed in pre-dawn clashes in the southwestern city of Taez, the sources said.

The city has become the scene of fierce clashes over the past week, after having been largely spared in fighting that has spread across several Yemeni provinces.

Airstrikes on Shiite Huthi rebel positions in the southern city of Daleh as well as clashes on Sunday killed 17 Huthis and six southern fighters.

Seven more Huthis were killed in an attack by tribesmen in the southern Shabwa province.

The rebels who seized Sanaa unopposed in September, have since expanded their control over several provinces.

In Aden, southern fighters clashed on Saturday night with rebels and allied troops who have seized parts of the city, residents said, but no casualty toll was available.

Saudi King Salman ordered the aid pledge following a UN appeal on Friday for $274 million (253 million euros) in emergency assistance for the millions affected by Yemen's multi-sided conflict.

The kingdom "stands with its Yemeni brothers" and hopes for "the restoration of security and stability", the state Saudi Press Agency said.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday that "ordinary families are struggling to access healthcare, water, food and fuel -- basic requirements for their survival".

Aid has only trickled into Yemen, largely because of Saudi-led coalition restrictions on its airspace and ports.

On Friday, the coalition spokesman said two cargos of supplies donated by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had reached Aden and the Red Sea city of Hodeida, via Djibouti, across the narrow Bab al-Mandab Strait.

Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri told reporters in Riyadh that "other cargos will follow in the coming days" in a "sea bridge to get aid to the Yemeni people."

But he insisted that shipments must be coordinated with the coalition.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders separately said that "more than 70 tonnes of medical material" arrived by plane in Sanaa on Saturday.

The Huthi rebels swept into the capital in September from their highland stronghold and then advanced south on the major port of Aden, forcing Hadi to flee to Riyadh.

Assiri said a Saudi soldier was killed on Friday in fighting in the southwestern Saudi region of Najran, along the Yemeni border.

The spokesman added the coalition had launched more than 2,000 air strikes on Yemen since the air campaign began.

The bombing campaign was launched amid Saudi fears the Huthis would shift Yemen into the orbit of Iran, the Shiite rival of the Sunni kingdom.

Tehran is a key ally of the Huthis but denies arming the rebels, who have allied with army units loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president forced out in a 2011 uprising.

On Friday, Tehran submitted a four-point Yemen peace plan to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

It calls for a ceasefire and immediate end to all foreign military attacks, the urgent delivery of humanitarian and medical aid, a resumption of political talks and the formation of a national unity government.

Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the air war on the Huthis to expand its influence in Yemen, overrunning Friday an army camp in the southern province of Hadramawt, a day after seizing the airport in provincial capital Mukalla.

A US drone killed on Saturday night three Al-Qaeda suspects as it struck a vehicle in Saeed, in Shabwa province, a tribal chief said.