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Saudis pound Houthi targets as UN picks new mediator

April 27th, 2015 | by admin
Saudis pound Houthi targets as UN picks new mediator
World
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Saudi-led aircraft pounded Iran-allied Houthi militiamen and rebel army units in central Yemen and the capital Sanaa on Monday, two days after the UN appointed a new envoy tasked with reviving peace talks.

Residents said warplanes flew between 15 and 20 sorties against groups of Houthi fighters and arms depots in the al-Dhalea provincial capital, Dhalea, and the nearby city of Qaataba, setting off a chain of explosions that lasted for two more hours.

Fighting intensified on Sunday, after a lull following an announcement by Riyadh last week that it was ending its nearly five-week-old bombing campaign except in places where the Houthis were advancing.

A coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia is trying to stop Shiite Houthi fighters and loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Salah from taking control of Yemen.

Riyadh wants to reinstate the country’s exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and accuses its arch-rival Iran of spreading chaos in Yemen by supporting the Houthis.

Both sides have been accused of preventing vital aid from reaching civilian populations. Houthis are stopping convoys of trucks from reaching Aden, the capital of southern Yemen, while Saudi-led coalition navies searching ships for weapons have been holding up food deliveries by sea.

Fuel shortages are also preventing traders from moving food to market, the United Nations’ World Food Programme said.

Fighting has killed more than 1,000 people, including an estimated 551 civilians since the Saudi-led bombing campaign started on March 26, the United Nations said on Friday. Its children’s agency UNICEF said at least 115 children were among the dead.

UN appoints new mediator

The resurgence in violence comes as the UN confirmed Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as its new special envoy to Yemen on Saturday.

He replaces Moroccan Jamal Benomar, who resigned last week following what diplomats described as sharp criticism of his performance by Gulf countries.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed “will work closely with the members of the United Nations Security Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council, governments in the region and other partners, as well as the United Nations country team for Yemen,” a UN statement said.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed had been heading the United Nations Ebola response mission, UNMEER, since December.

He has almost three decades of development and aid experience with the United Nations. More recently, he was UN resident humanitarian and development coordinator in Syria between 2008 and 2012, and in Yemen from 2012 to 2014.

His predecessor’s peace plan unravelled earlier this year as Houthi rebels pressed on with their offensive in southern Yemen, triggering the Saudi-led intervention.

Former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who still holds sway over army units allied with the Shiite rebels, has urged the Houthis to heed UN demands to withdraw from territory they have seized.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also called on anti-government forces to enter into political dialogue.

The fighting has raised fears that Yemen could become a front in a proxy war between Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies and Shiite Iran.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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