Fighting persists in Yemen after Saudis vow to ease airstrikes

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Saudi decision to scale back airstrikes in Yemen brings some relief to Sana, but raids and fighting continue

A scaling-back of the Saudi Arabia-led air war brought some relief Wednesday to residents of Yemen’s capital, but intensive bombardment continued in the city of Taiz, and street fighting raged in the port of Aden, the country’s commercial center.

The warring parties in Yemen -- Shiite Muslim rebels known as Houthis, defectors from the armed forces who joined the insurgents, and forces loyal to exiled President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi -- pressed ahead with battles despite calls for a political solution to the conflict.

The fighting over the last month has killed nearly 1,000 people across Yemen, according to the World Health Organization, with about three times as many people injured. The International Committee of the Red Cross called the humanitarian situation in the country “nothing short of catastrophic.”

Saudi Arabia launched its air offensive nearly a month ago with the stated aim of stemming the Houthi offensive. With criticism of the campaign mounting along with civilian deaths and injuries, the kingdom indicated Tuesday that it would reduce, but not halt, bombardment, and would continue to move militarily against the insurgents using other means.  

But despite Riyadh’s claim of success in the first phase of its military operation, the rebels and their allies continued to make gains.

Hours after the Saudi announcement, the insurgents captured a military base from Hadi loyalists in Taiz, officials said, triggering a wave of airstrikes.

In Aden and elsewhere in the country’s south, rebels and pro-Hadi forces battled each other using heavy weaponry in populated areas. Aden and surrounding areas are taking the brunt of the humanitarian disaster that has built up in recent weeks, with food, fuel and medical supplies running low.

The Obama administration, which had welcomed news of the easing of the Saudi-led bombing campaign, called for attention to be turned to peace talks and addressing the humanitarian crisis.

“We look forward to a shift from military operations to the rapid, unconditional resumption of all-party negotiations that allow Yemen to resume an inclusive political transition,” Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.

In Sana, which was overrun by the insurgents months ago, Houthis organized large street demonstrations Wednesday denouncing the Saudi-led bombing campaign, which has received logistical support from the United States. Many in the capital, even those who oppose the Houthis, are furious at both Riyadh and Washington.

"A halt to the war should not just be a matter of words -- Yemen is still under siege," said Manal Aidroos, a dentist. “Our lives are completely turned upside down, so this pause means nothing.”

Hadi too is an increasingly unpopular figure, in the wake of a rambling late-night televised address delivered from the Saudi capital. Many blame him for inviting the Saudi intervention.

The respite from almost daily bombardment, which for weeks had usually raged through the early-morning hours, was a relief to the capital’s people. But antiaircraft fire continued to rattle the city, with coalition planes apparently carrying out surveillance of Houthi-held bases and weapons dumps.

Many in the capital expressed pessimism and said Saudi involvement had only made matters worse. Large swaths of Yemen remain under Houthi control, and the country’s branch of Al Qaeda has exploited the fighting to make gains of its own.

"This is a failed war. It has unleashed hatreds, and the bloodshed will continue between Yemenis," said Abdul Rahman Ahmed, an office worker. "I’m not expecting peace."

The fighting in Yemen has heightened already strong sectarian tensions in the region. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim nation, has declared its determination to blunt Iranian influence. Iran, a primarily Shiite country, points to death and destruction caused by the Saudi-led air campaign.

A naval blockade enforced by coalition warships and the United States is aimed at preventing Iranian weapons deliveries to the Houthis. Tehran denies arming the rebels, who belong to the Shiite offshoot Zaydi sect.

Special correspondent Al-Alayaa reported from Sana and staff writer King from Alexandria, Egypt.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

11:35 a.m.: This article has been updated with comment from Bernadette Meehan and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The article was originally published at 8:47 a.m.

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