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Saudi vows to cover UN aid call for Yemen, keeps up air raids
By Jamal al-Jabiri
Sanaa (AFP) April 18, 2015

Qaeda takes key Yemen army camp, heavy weapons: official
Aden (AFP) April 17, 2015 - Al-Qaeda militants in southeast Yemen on Friday seized heavy weapons as they overran a key camp in Hadramawt provincial capital Mukalla, consolidating their grip on the city, an official said.

"Today Al-Qaeda fighters took control of the 27th Mechanised Brigade's camp and seized heavy weapons including tanks and artillery," the official told AFP, confirming that Al-Qaeda now controlled all of Mukalla a day after seizing its airport.

Residents of the city confirmed the camp had been seized "without resistance".

Until Friday, the camp in eastern Mukalla had remained loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour al-Hadi and was the only military site not taken over by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The jihadist network's powerful Yemeni branch took advantage of the growing chaos in the country to target Mukalla, a city of more than 200,000.

It attacked on April 2 and in less than 24 hours seized key areas and freed more than 300 prisoners, including one of its leaders.

At least 76 dead in Yemen air raids, fighting
Aden (AFP) April 17, 2015 - At least 76 people were killed in Yemen Friday as Saudi-led warplanes pounded rebels heading to bolster an assault on loyalists in Aden and fighting raged in Taez, officials said.

At least 20 rebels were killed, and two tanks and four armoured vehicles destroyed, in the overnight air strikes on a convoy headed out of Yemen's largest air base, Al-Anad, provincial official Abedrabbo al-Mihwali said.

The base was the main watching post for a long-running US-led war on Al-Qaeda in Yemen, and its evacuation by Western troops as the rebels advanced last month has created a vacuum that the jihadists have exploited to make big territorial gains.

In the port city of Aden, 32 rebels were among 40 people who died in fighting and air raids over the past 24 hours, a military source said.

Most of the rebels were killed in ambushes on the Dar Saad quarter of the southern city, Yemen's second largest.

In Taez, in the central highlands north of Aden, at least 16 people were killed as soldiers who have remained loyal to exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi put up fierce resistance to an attack on their base by Huthi Shiite rebels and renegade troops.

Three civilians were among the dead when a stray shell hit their home, a military source and residents said.

The 35th Brigade headquarters at the centre of the fighting escaped the lightning offensive that saw the rebels advance from their stronghold in the mainly Shiite northern mountains this spring into mostly Sunni central and southern provinces.

The support of army units still loyal to longtime strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, ousted in 2012 after a bloody year-long uprising, has been crucial to the insurgents' progress.

Saudi Arabia pledged Saturday to cover the entire $274 million in humanitarian aid sought by the UN for conflict-torn Yemen, which has also been the target of Saudi-led air strikes against Shiite rebels.

The United Nations says hundreds of people have died and thousands of families fled their homes in the war, which has also killed six Saudi security personnel in border skirmishes.

At least 27 more people died in the southwestern city of Taez during overnight clashes between loyalist forces and the Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels as well as Saudi-led coalition air raids, medical sources said.

Saudi King Salman ordered the humanitarian pledge following a United Nations appeal on Friday for $274 million (253 million euros) in emergency assistance for the millions affected by Yemen's war.

The kingdom "stands with its Yemeni brothers" and hopes for "the restoration of security and stability," the state Saudi Press Agency said, quoting an official statement.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said in the appeal: "Ordinary families are struggling to access healthcare, water, food and fuel -- basic requirements for their survival."

Aid has only trickled into the country, largely because of restrictions imposed by the coalition on the country's air space and sea ports.

The Huthi rebels swept into the capital Sanaa last September from their highland stronghold and then advanced south on the port city of Aden, forcing President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Riyadh.

- Explosions, gunfire -

The coalition began its campaign after Saudi Arabia feared the Huthis, allied with army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, would shift Yemen into the orbit of Shiite Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia's regional rival.

Residents said explosions and gunfire shook Taez overnight during fighting between Hadi loyalists and the rebels.

Nineteen rebels, four soldiers of a mechanised army unit loyal to the president and four other pro-Hadi fighters were killed, a medical source told AFP.

Rival fighters also clashed Friday night in districts of Aden, the main southern city, residents and security sources said.

Pro-Hadi forces backed by air strikes held off rebels battling for the past week for control of Aden's refinery, 15 kilometres (nine miles) to the west of the city.

The Yemen conflict has sent tensions soaring between Saudi Arabia and Iran -- the foremost Sunni and Shiite Muslim powers in the Middle East, respectively.

Tehran is a key ally of the Huthis but denies arming them.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that his country's military should not be seen as a threat in the Middle East.

The presence of Iranian navy ships "in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden is intended to ensure the security of neighbouring countries and maritime traffic," he said in an Army Day ceremony.

On Friday, Iran submitted a four-point Yemen peace plan to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

It calls for a ceasefire and immediate end to all foreign military attacks, the urgent delivery of humanitarian and medical aid, a resumption of political talks and the formation of a national unity government.

"It is imperative for the international community to get more effectively involved in ending the senseless aerial attacks and establishing a ceasefire," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a letter to Ban.

- No early end -

In Riyadh, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri said late Friday that "from this afternoon we have started operations in Taez".

There had been 100 sorties in Yemen on Thursday, he said, indicating no early end to the operation.

"This works needs patience, persistence and precision. We are not in a hurry... We have the time and we have the capabilities."

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, said opposing forces in the southern city of Lahej, near Aden, had endangered a hospital.

"Fighters on both sides in Lahej have unlawfully put a hospital in the middle of a battle," said Joe Stork, the watchdog's deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

Yemen is also a front line in the US war on Al-Qaeda, which has exploited the growing turmoil to expand its control of areas in the southeast of the deeply tribal Arabian Peninsula country.

On Friday, Al-Qaeda overran a key army camp in the Hadramawt provincial capital Mukalla, seizing heavy weapons and consolidating its grip on the city, an official and residents said.

The World Health Organization, in its latest toll, said 767 people have died in Yemen's war since March 19 and more than 2,900 were wounded. The majority have been civilians.


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