Leaders meet in Egypt to discuss crisis in Yemen, where Saudi-led coalition is striking bases of Houthi rebels.
by Al Jazeera
Arab leaders have gathered in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to discuss the crisis in Yemen, where Saudi-led coalition troops are pressing ahead with airstrikes on Houthi targets.
Security was tight in Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday as the leaders from the Arab League, representing 21 nations, opened the summit, which will discuss possible creation of a joint Arab military force, a sign of a new determination among Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies to intervene aggressively in regional hotspots.
The summit came as their airstrikes continued for a third straight day on Saturday, hitting targets in the city of Hudaydah on the Red Sea Coast, the Houthi stronghold of Saada in the north, and military installations in and around the capital Sanaa.
At least 24 civilians were killed in Friday’s strikes, bringing the toll from two days to 45 civilians, the Houthi-run Interior Ministry said.
The Houthis’ TV station showed footage from a market in Saada it said was struck by missiles, with images of charred bodies and wrecked vehicles.
Yemeni security officials said around 80 fighters from forces loyal to the Houthis or to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh had been killed in the strikes, according to the Associated Press news agency. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the press.
Air strikes also struck the base of Saleh, who ruled the country for more than 30 years. Saleh is believed to have fled to Sanhan, near the capital.
By Friday afternoon, more than 40 percent of Yemen’s air defences were destroyed, according to Yemeni Brigadier General Saleh al-Subaihi, who supports embattled Yemen President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the country.
The figures of civilian and combatant casualties could not be independently confirmed, though Amnesty International said at least six children were among those killed in Sanaa on Thursday.
Diplomats evacuated from Aden
Hadi fled the southern port city of Aden on Thursday under Saudi protection. After a stop in Riyadh, he arrived on Friday in Sharm el-Sheikh to attend the Arab League.
Saudi warships, meanwhile, have evacuated dozens of other Arab and foreign diplomats from Aden, Saudi state television said on Saturday. “They arrived later in Jeddah aboard two Saudi naval vessels,” the report stated.
The spokesman for the Arab coalition bombing Houthi targets in Yemen, Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri, said that Saudi Arabia and its allies will do whatever it takes to stop Yemen’s second largest city from falling to the rebel group, amid reports of ground fighting between forces loyal to Hadi and Houthi fighters in Aden.
Asiri said in Riyadh on Friday that the coalition’s “main objective [is] to protect the government in Aden”. Aden is believed to harbour dozens of army defectors and Houthi fighters.
Asiri’s remarks came as warnings were raised that a humanitarian disaster could unfold should the military intervention escalate.
Bashrahil Hesham Bashrahil, a journalist based in Aden, said civilians were scared, leaving the city with the once busy streets now eerily quiet.
“The markets are closed, businesses are closed and there is a real shortage of food,” Bashrahil told Al Jazeera. “Banks have been shut since Thursday and will not reopen until the security situation has been addressed.
“While power supplies have not yet been affected, there is a real sense of fear should the fighting worsen,” he said. “Hospitals are struggling to cope with the number of injured and are appealing for blood donations.”
Houthis and Hadi loyalists have been clashing on the outskirts of the city in the last few days, leaving many casualties.