By Mohammed Ghobari
Dozens of air strikes hit the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Thursday, in what residents described as the heaviest aerial attacks yet in nine months of war, days after a Saudi-led coalition trying to restore a Saudi-backed government ended a fragile ceasefire.
The strikes pounded the presidential palace and a mountain military base to the south of the city, causing children and teachers in several schools to flee for their lives.
“My classmate and I were at recess when a huge explosion hit the neighbourhood. We ran to the side and she fell to the ground in fear,” said Maha, a tenth grader in a Sanaa school.
“Everybody was screaming and the administration got us together and called our parents to take us out. All the students were in a panic.” There were no immediate reports of casualties.
A coalition led by Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Muslim allies has been fighting the Shi’ite Houthi movement, which controls the capital.
While Riyadh sees the Houthis as a proxy for bitter regional rival Iran to expand its influence, the Houthis deny this and say they are fighting a revolution against a corrupt government and Gulf Arab powers beholden to the West.
Almost 6,000 people have died in the conflict, nearly half of them civilians. United Nations-backed peace talks have yet to produce any substantial progress.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s foreign ministry declared the representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights persona non grata after what it said were unfair statements, a news agency run by the Saudi-allied government reported on Thursday.
The news agency, sabanew.net, quoted an official source as saying that the representative had “lost professionalism and is persona non grata”. The location of the unnamed representative was not immediately clear.
Sabanew.net cited the human rights minister as saying that the government regretted “the press statements and incomplete information on the humanitarian situation in Yemen”.
A new front opened in the nine-month-old civil war when forces loyal to the embattled Saudi-backed president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, landed by sea at the Red Sea port of Maydee near the border with Saudi Arabia late on Wednesday, according to residents. Northern Yemen is a Houthi stronghold.
Hadi’s forces attempted to push out from Maydee’s port, pounded for weeks by air strikes and naval shelling, into the surrounding city, but ran into heavy Houthi resistance and landmines, residents told Reuters by telephone.
Major General Adel Qumairi of the pro-government forces told Saudi-owned Arabiya TV that his forces had “completely taken control” of the city.
But Yemen’s state news agency Saba, run by the Houthis, quoted Sharaf Luqman, a spokesman for forces allied to the group, as saying the advance had been met by “heroic resistance” that caused them “great material and human losses”.
Saudi Arabia on Saturday announced the end of a truce that had reduced fighting but had been repeatedly violated by both sides.
The Saudi spokesman for the coalition, Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, told Al Arabiya that a Houthi ballistic missile aimed at the kingdom overnight had exploded on launch.