Saudi-led warplanes strike Yemen rebels

AFP . Sana | Update:

Yemenis sift the rubble of a heavily damaged building following reported Saudi-led coalition air strikes in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on 16 May 2019. Saudi-led coalition warplanes struck Yemeni rebel targets, including in the capital Sanaa, today two days after the insurgents claimed drone strikes that shut a key oil pipeline in the neighbouring kingdom. Photo: AFPSaudi-led coalition warplanes bombed Yemeni rebel targets including in the capital on Thursday following insurgent drone strikes on a key oil pipeline that Riyadh said were ordered by its arch-rival Tehran.

The new bombardment came after the UN envoy, who has been spearheading efforts to end more than four years of conflict in the Arab world's poorest country, warned Yemen still faced the threat of plunging into all-out war.

The Saudi deputy defence minister said that Tuesday's attack by Yemeni rebels on a major pipeline in his country was "tightening the noose" around peace efforts.

The Saudi-led coalition, which has been battling the Huthi rebels since March 2015, confirmed that its warplanes were carrying out multiple strikes across rebel-held territory in Yemen.

"We have begun to launch air strikes targeting sites operated by the Huthi militia, including in Sanaa," a coalition official, who declined to be identified, told AFP.

The coalition said it had hit "a number of legitimate military targets" that the rebels used to store munitions.

The rebels' Al-Masirah television said the coalition carried out at least 19 strikes, 11 of them in the capital.

A strike on one Sanaa neighbourhood killed six people and wounded 10, Mokhtar Mohammed of the capital's Republic Hospital said.

Aid group Doctors Without Borders said that at least four people were killed and 48 injured in Sanaa in "several airstrikes" by the Saudi-led coalition.

An AFP correspondent saw one residential building that had been reduced to rubble by an air strike. Residents were using their bare hands in a desperate search for survivors.

"God is greatest," they shouted as they pulled out a child. "Death to America, death to Israel," they chanted, unsure whether the youngster was alive or dead.

The rebels said their attack on the Saudi pipeline was a response to "crimes" committed by Riyadh during its bloody air war in Yemen, which has been criticised repeatedly by the United Nations and human rights groups.

The drone strikes further raised tensions in the region after the mysterious sabotage of several oil tankers and the US deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf over alleged threats from Iran.

The speaker of Kuwait's National Assembly said the risk of a war breaking out in the region was high.

"Chances are high, and things are not going the way we hoped for," Marzuk al-Ghanem told reporters following a closed-door meeting.

"The situation in the region is not reassuring and calls for preparing for all possibilities."

- 'Tightening noose' on peace -
Saudi Arabia's deputy defence minister, Khalid bin Salman, charged the pipeline attack was carried out on Iranian orders.

"The attack by the Iranian-backed Huthi militias against the two Aramco pumping stations proves that these militias are merely a tool that Iran's regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda in the region," the prince said on Twitter.

"The terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Huthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts."

The Saudi state minister for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, charged that the Huthis were "sacrificing the need of the Yemeni people for the benefit of Iran".

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled into Saudi exile as the rebels closed in on his last refuge in Yemen's second city Aden after sweeping through most of the rest of the country.

- 'Alarming signs' -
A grinding war of attrition has set in with third city Taez and the vital Red Sea aid port of Hodeida turned into battlegrounds.

In December, UN mediators brokered hard-won truce deals for both cities during talks in Sweden but the hoped for momentum for talks on a comprehensive peace has failed to materialise.

Three women were killed in clashes Wednesday in Hodeida, a doctor at Al-Thawra hospital told AFP.

On Tuesday, UN observers confirmed that rebel fighters had pulled out of three Red Sea ports including Hodeida.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths welcomed the pullback, but warned the Security Council on Wednesday that the risks of a slide into all-out war remained high.

"There are signs of hope," he said, but there are also "alarming signs" of war.

More than four years of conflict have triggered what the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 24.1 million -- more than two-thirds of the population -- in need of aid.

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