ADEN: Houthi fighters and allied army units clashed with local militias in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Sunday, and eyewitnesses said gun battles and heavy shelling ripped through a downtown district near the city’s port.
The Houthi forces have been battling to take Aden, a last foothold of fighters loyal to Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, advancing to the city centre despite 11 days of air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition of mainly Gulf air forces.
Saudi Arabia launched the air strikes on March 26 in an attempt to turn back the Houthis, who already control Yemen’s capital Sanaa, and restore some of Mr Hadi’s crumbling authority.
hting has failed to inflict any decisive defeat on rebels
The air and sea campaign has targeted Houthi convoys, missiles and weapons stores and cut off any possible outside reinforcements — although the Houthis deny Saudi accusations that they are armed by Tehran.
The fighting has failed so far to inflict any decisive defeat on the Houthis, or the supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who are fighting alongside them, but the growing death toll and humanitarian suffering has alarmed aid groups.
The United Nations said on Thursday that more than 500 people had been killed in two weeks of fighting in Yemen, while the International Committee of the Red Cross has appealed for an immediate 24-hour pause in fighting to allow aid into Yemen.
The ICRC, which has blamed the Saudi-led coalition for delays in aid shipments, said it received approval to fly in medical supplies and staff and hoped to send two planes on Monday.
A spokesman for the military coalition said the ICRC had approval to fly in aid on Sunday but pulled out because of problems with the company from which it chartered a plane.
Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri also said a Sudanese flight was prevented from landing at Sanaa on Sunday by authorities in the Houthi-run capital, and a Turkish evacuation flight was held up. “Usually, the delay is because of the other side,” he said.
A pro-Hadi militia source said 36 Houthi and allied fighters were killed on Sunday in Aden’s central Mualla district, near the port, while 11 of Mr Hadi’s combatants died.
Houthi forces initially advanced towards the port area, but hours later had been pushed back several streets towards an army base.
“There are bodies in the streets and we can’t get close because there are Houthi snipers on the rooftops. Anything that gets near they shoot at, and the shelling on Mualla has been indiscriminate,” a medic said.
Brig Gen Asseri said the coalition was providing pro-Hadi fighters with intelligence, equipment and logistics. “We hope in a few days they will control most of the city,” he told reporters in Riyadh.
Abdul Kareem, an Aden council member, called on both sides to implement a ceasefire so that civilians could be evacuated. “Aden is going through a humanitarian and health crisis,” he said.
At least two main city districts have been without power for days after a rocket knocked out a main power station on Friday, and other areas suffered repeated cuts. Water has also been cut from some central districts.
Both Saudi Arabia and the Houthis say they are ready for talks which could return Yemen to the political transition which started when Mr Saleh stood down in 2012 following huge street protests against his rule, inspired by wider Arab uprisings.
But they have set out incompatible conditions for the talks and neighbouring Oman, which often steers an independent course in the Gulf and has stayed clear of the Saudi-led military operations, said last week that neither side was ready for negotiations.
A senior Houthi member said on Sunday the group was ready for peace talks as long as the Saudi-led air campaign was halted and negotiations were overseen by “non-aggressive” parties.
The fighting between Houthis and Hadi loyalists is only one of many conflicts in Yemen, which also faces tribal unrest, a simmering separatist movement in the south, and a threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the east.
In the eastern coastal town of Mukalla, tribesmen deployed on the streets, pushing Al Qaeda fighters out of much of the town just three days after the militants overran it, residents said.
The fighters entered Mukalla on Saturday, pledging to restore security after the militants broke into its jail on Thursday and freed a local Al Qaeda leader.