Yemen crisis: Civilian toll mounts from Saudi airstrikes

With Saudi-led airstrikes in their seventh day, dozens of civilians were reported killed at a dairy factory where Yemen's Houthi rebels are suspected of storing weapons.

Bilal Hussein/AP
Dozens of Arab students chant slogans as they hold a Yemeni flag during a demonstration against the Saudi-led airstrikes against Yemeni Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, in front the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, April. 1, 2015. Yemeni officials said airstrikes hit a factory Wednesday in rebel-controlled Hodeida, a port city on the country's western, Red Sea, and over 20 workers died there.

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Saudi-led airstrikes hit Houthi rebel targets across Yemen Wednesday, including a dairy factory in the west where dozens of civilians were killed. As  the bombings enter their seventh day, concerns are rising that the conflict will continue to escalate and seep beyond Yemen’s borders.

The airstrikes targeted rebel-controlled army camps in the port city of Hodeida as well as warehouses belonging to a dairy factory that allegedly were used to store rebel weapons, reports The Associated Press.

Shiite Houthi rebels took over Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, last year, ultimately forcing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to the southern port city of Aden. Last week, he fled Yemen’s second largest city for Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s transport minister said this week that President Hadi was preparing to form a government in exile in Riyadh until security is restored in Yemen, which he expects to happen “soon.”

Saudi Arabia is leading a 10-member coalition of majority Sunni Arab nations that seek to reinstate Hadi and defeat the Houthis, member of the Zaydi, or Fiver, Shiite sect and that Saudi Arabia charges are backed by Iran. Tehran denies providing military support to Houthis.

The Washington Post reports that in targeting more than military bases and rebel supply lines, the coalition is signaling it’s widening the scope of its raids. This could cause civilian death tolls to spike.

The New York Time’s reports that there are few signs that the airstrikes are shifting the battle in favor of either side of the fight, “raising fears of a lengthy war that is expanding the destabilizing regional conflict between the Persian Gulf monarchies and Iran."

With Yemen under blockade from air and sea by the Saudi-led coalition, aid agencies intensified their warnings on Tuesday about the toll on civilians and hospitals, which are running critically low on medical supplies.

“The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days,” [UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein] said in a statement. “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse.”…

Some hospitals have been bombed, as have private homes; schools; and civilian airports and power stations in the capital, Sana, and the cities of Saada and Al Hudaydah, the United Nations said, highlighting fears of the havoc that would result from a threatened ground invasion by Saudi forces and those of other nations.

Saudi Arabia blames rebels for moving into residential areas in attempts to avoid being hit by airstrikes for the uptick in civilian casualties, The Washington Post reports.

“They are inside the villages and towns as part of their strategy,” Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asseri said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Tuesday that Yemen’s security was “part and parcel” of his kingdom’s security, and that of the rest of the Arab world. While it has amassed ground troops along its southern border with Yemen, there are no immediate plans to move in, officials say.

"The Saudis have come to the hard conclusion that no one will come to their rescue if Iran manages to have a foothold in Yemen, (and) establish a kind of Yemeni Hezbollah... to practice coercive diplomacy with Riyadh," Hassan Barari, professor of international relations at Qatar University, told Agence France-Presse.

Meanwhile, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, petitioned the United Nations to do everything possible to stop airstrikes in Yemen, Reuters reports.

"The military path in Yemen is doomed to failure. National dialogue without external meddling is the only political solution," Mr. Abdollahian told IRNA news.

Iran and Saudi Arabia support opposing sides in other regional conflicts, including in Syria and Lebanon, Reuters reports.

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