15 killed in blasts after air strikes on Yemen arms depot
April 20 2015 04:53 PM
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AFP/Sanaa

At least 15 people were dead and there were fears for dozens more Monday after air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition set off explosions that tore through Yemen's rebel-held capital.

The two strikes on a missile depot in the Fajj Attan area of Sanaa sparked explosions that flattened nearby houses, shook faraway neighbourhoods and sent clouds of thick smoke billowing over the capital.

Medics said at least 15 civilians were killed and dozens wounded and there were fears of a much higher death toll.

The hilltop base belongs to the missile brigade of the elite Republican Guard, which remained loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been accused of siding with Huthi rebels in their fight against the government.

Fires had broken out at the base and a nearby petrol station, witnesses said, and the scorching heat could be felt from a distance.

The Shiite rebels have seized control of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula nation, including Sanaa, and fought fierce battles with pro-government forces.

A coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia launched the air campaign against the rebels last month, vowing to restore the authority of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled to Riyadh as the militiamen advanced on his southern stronghold of Aden.

Riyadh has accused Iran, the main Shiite power, of backing the rebels and fears a Tehran-friendly regime taking control of the country on its southern border.

The coalition says it has carried out more than 2,000 strikes since the start of the campaign, gaining complete control of Yemeni airspace and knocking out rebel infrastructure.

 

- Iran mediation rejected -

The United Nations says the fighting and air strikes have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded, and there has been increasing concern of a huge humanitarian crisis.

Calls have been growing for peace talks to end the conflict, but authorities on Monday rejected an Iranian offer to mediate talks.

"Any mediation effort coming from Iran is unacceptable because Iran is involved in the Yemen issue," Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin said on the sidelines of an economic meeting in Kuwait City.

"The Huthis and Saleh forces must withdraw from all cities and villages of Yemen, including Sanaa and Aden, return to (their northern stronghold of) Saada as civilians, and lay down their arms," Yassin said.

"After that we can talk about dialogue and a political solution. But now there is no room for negotiations," he said.

The exiled authorities were given a boost on Sunday when the commanders of a vast military district vowed their loyalty to Hadi's government.

The military command of 25,000 troops in Yemen's Hadramawt province, the country's largest and on the border with Saudi Arabia, expressed their support for Hadi and his "constitutional legitimacy".

 

- 'Will never give in' -

But rebel leader Abdulmalik al-Huthi vowed his forces would never surrender.

"Our Yemeni people will never give in -- it will resist in the face of the savage aggression," Huthi said in televised statement on Sunday.

He promised to fight back using "all means and options" and said Riyadh "has no right to interfere" in the country.

Huthi also slammed as "unfair" a UN Security Council resolution on Tuesday imposing an arms embargo on the rebels and demanding that they return to their highland stronghold.

But in what will be seen as another welcome sign for Hadi, Saleh -- forced out after a 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising -- on Sunday welcomed the Security Council resolution as a "positive" step, with his party backing calls for a ceasefire and UN-mediated talks.

Yemen has long struggled with deep tribal divisions and an insurgency by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), considered by Washington as the jihadist network's most dangerous branch.

Al-Qaeda militants have taken advantage of the chaos to seize territory including an army camp in Hadramawt, an airport and provincial capital Mukalla.

 

 

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