Fighting and air strikes across Yemen, dialogue remains distant

Fighting and air strikes across Yemen, dialogue remains distant
# 29 March 2015 20:03 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Yemeni fighters loyal to the Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi clashed with Iranian-allied Houthi fighters on Sunday in downtown Aden, the absent leader's last major foothold in the country, APA reports quoting Reuters.

Hadi loyalists in the southern port city reported a gun battle in the central Crater district in which three people were killed, and said they recaptured the airport, which has changed hands several times in several days of fighting.

The Health Ministry, loyal to the Houthi fighters who control the capital, said Saudi-led air strikes had killed 35 people and wounded 88 overnight. The figures could not be independently confirmed.

The Houthi fighters, representing a Shi'ite minority that makes up around a third of Yemen's population, emerged as the most powerful force in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country last year when they captured the capital Sanaa.

Saudi Arabia has rallied Sunni Muslim Arab countries in an air campaign to support Hadi, who moved to Aden in February and is now in Riyadh after leaving Yemen in the past week. The fighting has brought civil war to a country that was already sliding into chaos and which had been a battlefield for the secret U.S. drone war against al Qaeda.

While the Houthi fighters and their army allies continued to make gains after the air strikes were first launched early on Thursday, they appeared to suffer reversals on Sunday on three fronts - in Aden's northern suburbs, in Dhalea province north of Aden, and the eastern province of Shabwa.

In Shabwa, tribal sources said tribesmen killed 30 Houthis in a battle with the Shi'ite militia and its army allies at a military base. This also could not be independently confirmed.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes struck military targets at airports in the capital Sanaa and in Hodeida, the main Red Sea port.

In the northern city of Saada, a Houthi stronghold near the Saudi border, strikes hit Houthi military bases belonging to the militia and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who still controls most army units.

Saleh stood down after a 2011 uprising but still wields wide influence in Yemen. He appealed on Saturday to Arab leaders meeting in Egypt to halt their four-day offensive and resume talks on political transition in Yemen, promising that neither he nor his relatives would seek the presidency.

However Hadi's Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen dismissed his comments as "the talk of losers".

Saudi Arabia's military intervention is the latest front in its widening contest with Iran for power in the region, a proxy struggle also playing out in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Iran denies accusations from Sunni Gulf rulers that it has armed the Houthis, who follow the Zaidi branch of Shi'ite Islam.

Zaidi Shi'ites led a thousand-year kingdom in Yemen until 1962. Former leader Saleh himself is a member of the sect, although he sought to crush the Houthis while in office, only allying with them after his downfall.