18 dead, 300 hurt as Sana'a raids spark blasts

2015-04-20 19:57
Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site where many believe the largest weapons cache in Yemen's capital, Sana’a, is located. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Smoke rises after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site where many believe the largest weapons cache in Yemen's capital, Sana’a, is located. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

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Sana'a - Saudi-led air strikes on a missile depot in Yemen's rebel-held capital on Monday sparked explosions that left at least 18 people dead and 300 wounded, flattening houses and shaking faraway neighbourhoods.

Many more people were feared to have been killed after the two strikes that hit the depot in the Fajj Attan area of Sana'a, which was covered in thick black clouds of smoke.

Medics at four hospitals in the capital said at least 18 civilians were killed and some 300 others wounded.

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 the Huthi rebels in their fight against the government.

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

The Shi'ite rebels have seized control of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula nation, including Sana'a, 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 Shi'ite 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 Sana'a 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."

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".

Never surrender

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.

Read more on:    saudi arabia  |  yemen

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