#Houthi rebels defy #Saudi air raids to advance on Aden
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels pushed hard into the southern city of Aden. The move showed that the Shia group had no plans to back down in the face of air strikes by a coalition of Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia.
Fierce fighting rocked the port city as Houthi forces pounded it with artillery, according to residents. Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news broadcaster, reported that up to 60 people had been killed in Aden.
Mohammad al-Bukhaiti, a council member of the Houthi militia Ansar Allah, said his forces were braced for a Saudi-led regional intervention, though observers believe such a move is not imminent.
It is becoming clear that a ground invasion will probably be required if the coalition wants to achieve its military aims in the Arab world’s poorest country.
The Arab League voted this weekend to create a “joint force” for Yemen, a plan unlikely ever to materialise but which gives Riyadh regional legitimacy to lead a campaign with its allies.
Mr Bukhaiti said: “The goals of this intervention will not succeed.”
Yemen is being dragged into a regional proxy war between Iran, a Shia Muslim country, and Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia. Yemen has for years been fighting an al-Qaeda insurgency and a southern separatist movement.
However, the air strikes, which continued on Monday, appear to have failed to curb Houthi rebels and their allies.
Ibrahim Sharqieh, deputy director of the Brookings Doha Centre think-tank, said Saudi Arabia was unlikely to launch a ground campaign until it had degraded Houthi forces or was able to organise Yemeni forces to work with it on the ground.
“I do not expect to see [a ground intervention] for another two to three weeks, maybe a month,” Mr Sharqieh said. “The Houthis are still in a strong position. The forces loyal to [former president Ali Abdullah] Saleh are still very strong. In these circumstances we are unlikely to see ground operations.”
One of the Saudi coalition air strikes hit a UN-run camp for displaced people in the northern city of Haradh, wounding and killing dozens of people. Johannes van der Klaauw, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the capital Sana’a, said at least 30 people were killed and 25 others wounded.
“We are outraged by this attack,” Mr van der Klaauw said. “Whoever committed this attack did not respect humanitarian law.”
Gulf air strikes also battered Aden’s airport, which doubles as an air force base. But Houthi rebels and allied forces continued to push into the southern provinces surrounding Aden, as forces loyal to ousted president Abd-Rabbu Hadi appeared to unravel.
Mr Hadi’s “popular committees” largely returned to their home provinces and left the fighting in Aden to secessionist militias and armed locals, said a person close to the southern separatist movement.
Forces loyal to Mr Saleh, forced out in a 2011 transition deal, were also on Aden’s outskirts as part of the Houthi advance. Mr Saleh, who once fought a war with the Houthis, has joined forces with them in an attempt to remove Mr Hadi from power. He still wields influence over tens of thousands of soldiers.
One Aden resident, who asked not to be named for her safety, said Houthi forces would struggle to hold the city as the fighting became increasingly bloody.
“They [Houthis and Saleh supporters] are attempting to make ground but getting killed . . . Saleh’s men have been shooting with tanks in a reckless way. They are shooting so much that I believe they are hitting homes.”