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Apr 7, 2015 8:56 AM

Saudi-led airstrikes hit Yemen's south amid ground fighting

The Associated Press

SANAA, Yemen (AP) Saudi-led coalition jets bombed a military installation in southern Yemen on Tuesday as local tribes battled Shiite rebels and their allies in the area, seizing a makeshift camp and weapons, Yemeni military officials said.

The fighting in southern Ibb province came as the U.N. children's welfare agency warned that more than 100,000 people have fled their homes in different provinces in Yemen seeking safety from the violence. According to UNICEF, at least 74 children have also been killed since the fighting between Yemeni rivals intensified and the coalition airstrike campaign began two weeks ago.

A medical volunteer in the Maytam district in Ibb said the airstrike on a Republican Guards' camp wounded at least 25 troops. The Guards' unit is loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh who is allied with the Shiite rebels in their power grab in Yemen.

Residents say the camp was close to a school. The rebel television station, al-Masirah, said three children were killed in the airstrike. The medical volunteer, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, could not confirm the children's deaths.

About 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the camp, local tribes battled with Houthis who had set up a makeshift camp in the area, driving the rebels away and seizing their weapons, a local resident said, also speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Civilians have paid a heavy toll for the violence that mushroomed from an internal power struggle into a regional war, drawing in neighboring Saudi Arabia and its allies.

Children have been especially vulnerable, said UNICEF's Yemen representative, Julien Harneis.

"They are being killed, maimed and forced to flee their homes, their health threatened and their education interrupted," Harneis said in a statement, released Monday. Warring factions have also increased their recruitment of children under the age of 18.

The agency said at least 74 children have been killed and 44 wounded since March 26, when the Saudi-led air campaign began.

Last week, the U.N. said more than 500 civilians have been killed in the last two weeks. Comprehensive casualty figures are difficult to collect and verify because of the ongoing violence.

The fighting pits allies of the country's embattled president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, against the Houthis and Saleh's loyalists.

The Saudi-led campaign, which supports Hadi, now in its 13th day, has so far failed to stop the Houthis' advance on Aden Yemen's second-largest city, which was declared a provisional capital by Hadi before he fled the country to Saudi Arabia.

Humanitarian groups say they are running out of supplies. They have called for a temporary halt to the fighting to allow medical teams and fresh medical supplies to arrive in the country and for residents to identify and bury their dead.

UNICEF said the violence has disrupted water supplies in areas of southern Yemen and that sewage is overflowing in some locations, raising the risk of disease outbreak. Water systems have been repeatedly damaged in Aden and two other areas, UNICEF said, adding that it is providing fuel for water pumps.

Hospitals are struggling to treat large numbers of wounded with insufficient supplies and some medical facilities have come under attack, the agency said.

At least three health workers, including an ambulance driver, have been killed in attacks in Aden and another southern city.

In Geneva, Sitara Jabeen, a spokeswoman for the International Committee for the Red Cross, said a cargo plane was being loaded in Amman, Jordan, with 16 tons (17 U.S. tons) of medical supplies for Yemen and awaiting clearance from coalition forces to land in Sanaa.

It would be the first ICRC aid to arrive in the Yemeni capital since the Saudi-imposed air blockade. Another 32 tons (35 U.S. tons) of supplies are awaiting another plane to Yemen later, she said.

"If these medical supplies do not reach Yemen, then unfortunately we are afraid many more people will just die because they will not have the treatment on time," Jabeen said.

She also said a surgical team is waiting for clearance to dock in Aden from Djibouti. There have been reports of fighting in the port.

On Monday, fighting intensified in Aden, with the rebels and their allies making their strongest push yet to seize control of the city, a main stronghold of Hadi supporters. The clashes were so intense, many bodies were left in the streets.

The fighting raised doubts over the possibility of landing ground forces from the Saudi-led coalition to carve out a secure enclave for the return of Hadi, who fled the country two weeks ago.

"Conditions are very dangerous right now," UNICEF's Dr. Gamila Hibatullah in Aden was quoted as saying. "Hospitals are overflowing, and even ambulances have been hijacked."

In Islamabad, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed a joint session of parliament convened to debate whether Pakistan should join the Saudi-led coalition.

Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Muhamad Asif on Monday told lawmakers that Saudi Arabia wanted Pakistan to contribute troops, warplanes and warships.

The Saudi campaign has turned Yemen into a new proxy war between the kingdom and Iran, which has backed the Houthis, though Tehran denies aiding the rebels militarily.

Sharif also warned Iran to "ponder upon its policy and consider whether that policy is correct or not."


Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad contributed to this story.


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