At least six civilians, including including women and children, have been killed and dozens wounded in Saudi-UAE led coalition air raids on residential areas and Houthi rebel military targets in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.
The coalition carried out 11 attacks on the capital in all, among 19 across rebel-held territory on Thursday, the Houthi-run Masirah TV channel reported. It blamed “aircraft of the (Saudi-led) aggression”.
Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya quoted a coalition statement as saying the Saudi coalition had launched an operation aimed at “neutralising the ability of the Houthi militia to carry out acts of aggression.”
Masirah quoted the Houthi health ministry as saying six civilians, including four children, had been killed and 52 wounded, including two Russian women working in the health sector.
This comes two days after the Iran-aligned rebels claimed drone attacks that shut a key oil pipeline in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
A witness told AFP news agency that raids began around 8am (0500 GMT), while many Yemenis were asleep awaiting the end at sunset of the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.
Nasser Arrabyee, a Yemeni journalist, said the number of casualties are expected to rise.
“Medial sources are saying that they have received a lot of victims – injured and dead – which means the number will be even higher than just six,” he told Al Jazeera from Sanaa.
Arrabyee said “residential areas in the middle of Sanaa, in the most crowded areas were randomly bombed and many houses were reduced to the ground”.
Calls for retaliation
On Tuesday, the Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for twin drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s main east-west oil pipeline, saying that they were a response to “crimes” committed by Riyadh during the bloody air war it has led in Yemen since March 2015.
Saudi Arabia’s deputy defence minister, accused Iran on Thursday of ordering the drone attacks on two Aramco pumping stations as a “tool to implement its expansionist agenda in the region”.
“The terrorist acts, ordered by the regime in Tehran, and carried out by the Houthis, are tightening the noose around the ongoing political efforts,” the prince said on Twitter.
The pipeline, which can carry five million barrels of crude per day, provides a strategic alternative route for Saudi exports if the shipping lane from the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz is closed.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the vital conduit for global oil supplies in case of a military confrontation with the United States.
The Saudi cabinet called on Wednesday for “confronting terrorist entities which carry out such sabotage acts, including the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.”
Key ally the United Arab Emirates echoed the call.
“We will retaliate and we will retaliate hard when we see Houthis hitting civilian targets like what happened in Saudi Arabia,” the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in Yemen when President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled into Saudi exile as the rebels closed in on his last refuge in Yemen’s second city Aden after sweeping through most of the country.
The intervention has retaken much of the south, but the capital and most of the populous central highlands remain in rebel hands.
On Wednesday, the UN Security Council met to discuss the withdrawal of Houthi rebels from three major Yemeni ports as part of a six-month review of an agreement reached in Sweden last year.
Lieutenant-General Michael Lollesgaard, the head of the United Nations committee overseeing the withdrawal, said in the city of Hodeidah on Tuesday the UN now had full access to the ports, which would allow its inspectors to check ships docking for any Houthi arms imports.
“This moment is significant. But this is only the beginning. These redeployments must be followed by concrete actions of the parties to deliver on their obligations under the Stockholm agreement,” Martin Griffith, UN special envoy for Yemen, said at the Security Council meeting on Yemen.
The ceasefire in Hodeidah, agreed during peace talks in Stockholm in December, has largely held despite intermittent shelling and skirmishes, but violence continues elsewhere in the country