By Tim Nanns
The Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes hit multiple targets in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on Saturday and Sunday, including the airport and a camp allegedly holding long-range missiles, AFP news agency reported.
Foreign nationals and diplomats are being evacuated as the situation in the capital escalates. Meanwhile, Yemen Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseentold Egyptian state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram in an interview on Saturday that an operation involving ground forces was “very possible”.
The air strikes, which occurred during Saturday evening, hit Sanaa airport for the first time, just one day after UN personnel fled the capital by plane. According to AFP’s sources, there were several loud explosions, putting the airport effectively out of service. Other targets included a military base allegedly holding long-range missiles pointing towards Aden and “neighbouring countries”, and different military bases throughout the country. Focus was particularly on the Houthi’s stronghold of Saada in northern Yemen, according to Reuters news agency.
Pakistan has moved to evacuate its nationals by plane, likely from the airport of Hodeida on the Red Sea, as the Saudi navy is shipping foreign diplomats out of interim capital Aden.
Yaseen also told Al-Ahram that the use of ground forces by the coalition was “very possible”, insisting that the Houthis “return to where they came from”. He added that a possible political solution was postponed until the military operation “achieves its objectives”. Concerning a possible UN-backing of the intervention, he stated that “it doesn’t need that”.
As expected, the Yemen issue was the main topic at the Arab League Summit’s opening session on Saturday in Sharm El-Sheikh. During the session, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had voiced his concerns about the ongoing Yemen crisis. He stated that the military operation, led by Saudi Arabia, had “been undertaken at the request of Yemen’s sovereign and legitimate leader, President Hadi”. He also emphasised the need for UN-facilitated negotiations as “the only chance to prevent long, drawn-out conflict”.
In the same session, Arab leaders, including President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, also addressed the Yemen issue with Al-Sisi calling the intervention “inevitable” and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz vowing to continue the operation until stability in Yemen was achieved. Yemen President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who fled Aden on Thursday, pushed to continue the operation to force the Houthi to a “complete surrender”. US President Barack Obama added his support for the operation on Friday in a conversation with King Salman, according to a White House statement.
The final communiqué of the Arab Summit, published on Sunday, called upon the Yemeni rebels to “withdraw and surrender their weapons,” for the sake of ending “the Houthi coup and restore legitimacy”.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a statement Saturday stating concerns about growing civilian casualties, deployment of forces in densely populated areas and air strikes on civilian neighbourhoods. While similar concerns had been raised before by other human rights organisations, HRW also voiced fears about the possible use of banned cluster munitions by Saudi Arabia. The group stated that there was strong evidence about past use of it by Saudi Arabia in Yemen in 2009.
Egypt has publicly declared its involvement in the coalition’s operation ‘Decisive Storm’ and is moving parts of its fleet towards the strategically important Bab El-Mandeb. It remains unclear to which degree Egypt’s navy and air force are involved in the air strikes targeting the Houthi militia. The Foreign Ministry, however, said Egypt is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and other coalition members to participate in the strikes and provide ground forces “if necessary”.