Fighters loyal to Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi stand in the area of the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait, in the southern Yemeni province of Taez, on Thursday.
Government forces in Yemen now control the key Bab al-Mandab Strait through which much of the world’s maritime traffic passes after retaking it from Shia rebels, a general said yesterday.
“The Bab al-Mandab Strait is now under the total control of our troops,” General Turki Ahmed said.
Ahmed was one of the commanders of an offensive that on Thursday seized the island of Mayyun (Perim) between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
The narrow waterway, which separates Yemen from Djibouti only some 32km away, funnels shipping to and from the Suez Canal, which lies at the north end of the Red Sea.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government returned to Aden last month following six months in exile, after loyalist forces regained control of the port city and four other southern provinces from the rebels.
The rebels still control the capital and northern provinces near the border with Saudi Arabia.
On Thursday, troops backed by a Saudi-led coalition seized Bab al-Mandab and Dhubab in the southern province of Taez near the strait, loyalist military official Abd-Rabbu al-Mihwali said.
The strait had been in the hands of Houthi rebels and their allies, units still loyal to ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, since March.
Bab al-Mandab was “brought under our control with the help of coalition forces, who provided ground, naval and air support”, General Ahmed said.
“The Houthis and their allies retreated to Mokha,” a Red Sea port some 20km further north.
“We are awaiting orders from the political leadership and President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi for the next move in the offensive,” Ahmed added.
The attack took place “in response to rebel troop movements” towards Aden and the four other recaptured southern provinces, one source said.
Yemen’s temporary capital Aden “was targeted on Thursday by a Scud missile which hit a suburb west of the city”, a source said.
The Houthis had admitted losing control of the strategic strait.
Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, self-described “president of the High Committee of the Revolution”, sent a message to UN chief Ban Ki-moon expressing “surprise” at Thursday’s attack “on Mayyun island and areas close to the Bab al-Mandab Strait”.
He viewed the assault as “a grave and irresponsible escalation”, and said it threatened “the security of international maritime navigation”, according to the text of the message released by the rebel-controlled Saba news agency.
In Aden, government spokesman Rajedh Badi outlined what could happen next.
“The next step for our forces will be to retake all of the coast along the Red Sea, including Mokha and Hodeida,” he said.
The United Nations said yesterday more than 500 children have been killed since the upsurge in violence in Yemen in March, while some 1.7mn youths are at risk of malnutrition.
During the six months, at least 505 children have died and 702 have been injured, said Christophe Boulierac, spokesman for the UN children’s agency.
“These are conservative figures,” he told reporters in Geneva.
He said the children were being killed in the bombing campaigns but also amid street fighting.
“The situation for children is deteriorating every single day, and it is horrific,” Boulierac said, urging all parties with influence to bring an urgent end to the violence.
He also lamented a sharp increase in the recruitment of children as fighters in the war-ravaged country, with 606 verified cases so far this year.
That is four times the 156 cases verified in 2014, he said.
“Children in Yemen are being used by armed groups, manning checkpoints or carrying arms,” he said, adding that “the recruitment is happening on both sides”.
In the impoverished country, where 80% of the population is under 18, some 10mn children are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, Boulierac said.
The dire humanitarian situation, along with underfunding of aid organisations and difficulty accessing those in need, could prove deadlier for Yemen’s children than the violence, he warned.
“We know that more children (could) die from preventable disease than from bullets and bombs,” he said.
The nutrition situation, which already before the conflict was dire in Yemen, has meanwhile worsened significantly, he said, pointing out that 1.7mn children were at risk of malnutrition.
The number of children under five at risk of severe acute malnutrition has tripled this year to 537,000, up from 160,000 before the conflict, Boulierac warned.
The United Nations says at least 2,355 civilians have been killed in Yemen’s conflict since late March, and another 4,862 injured, Colville said.
Some 1.4mn people have meanwhile been forced to flee their homes.
Meanwhile, a European-backed resolution calling for a UN investigation into rights abuses committed during the conflict was withdrawn this week.
The Dutch-drafted UN rights council proposal had called for a full inquiry into violations in Yemen since September 2014.
Saudi Arabia introduced its own proposal which instead supported a domestic probe.
After securing the support of the US and Britain, the Saudi resolution was adopted by the UN’s top rights body yesterday by consensus.
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