A defiant Huthi rebel leader vowed Sunday never to submit to “aggression” as weekend Saudi-led air strikes and clashes between his men and pro-government forces in Yemen killed 85 people.
Abdulmalik al-Huthi’s televised pledge came on the 25th day of the Saudi-led campaign, which the UN says has left hundreds of people dead and forced thousands of families to flee their homes.
It also came as the military commander of the vast southern province of Hadramawt bordering Saudi Arabia pledged support for embattled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
The air war began on March 26 at Hadi’s request, as the Huthi rebels advanced on the main southern port of Aden after sweeping into Sanaa.
“Our Yemeni people will never give in — it will resist in the face of the savage aggression,” Huthi said, vowing to put up a tough resistance using “all means and options” available.
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia accuses Shiite majority Iran of backing the rebels.
Despite being a key ally of the Huthis, Iran denies it is arming the rebels and has petitioned the United Nations with a four-point peace plan to end the violence.
Huthi said Sunday that Saudi Arabia “has no right to interfere” in its neighbour, also insisting that Iran has “no influence” in the Arabian Peninsula country.
“The political problem is an internal affair and it is up to us to define our future,” he said.
He also dismissed as “unfair” Tuesday’s UN Security Council resolution, which imposed an arms embargo on the rebels and demanded that they return to their highland stronghold.
– Saleh welcomes resolution –
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president who still holds sway over army units who have allied with the Huthis, in a statement on Sunday welcomed the resolution to “stop bloodshed” in Yemen.
General Abdelrahman Al-Halili said in a statement: “The officers, non-commissioned officers and the soldiers of the First Military Region based in Hadramawt back President Hadi, who represents constitutional legitimacy.”
The move is a severe blow to the Huthis and Saleh who relied on the army for support.
Huthi’s speech was broadcast after two days of clashes between his men and pro-Hadi forces and Saudi-led air strikes, and a day after Riyadh pledged to cover the entire $274 million (253 million euros) in humanitarian aid sought by the United Nations.
The deadliest clashes were in the city of Daleh, with 31 Huthis and 17 pro-Hadi forces killed on Sunday, a local official said, also reporting a series of air strikes on rebel positions.
Pre-dawn clashes in the southwestern city of Taez left 10 Huthi rebels and four pro-Hadi militiamen dead, medics and local sources said.
Taez, Yemen’s third largest city after the Sanaa and Aden, has seen fierce clashes over the past week, after having been largely spared in fighting that has spread across several provinces.
On Sunday, coalition warplanes pounded Huthi positions in Taez, an AFP correspondent said, adding that the streets were empty.
Seven Huthis were also killed in an attack by tribesmen in the southern province of Shabwa, and in Aden fighting since Saturday left 11 Huthis and five pro-Hadi fighters dead, military sources said.
Pro-Hadi fighters in the city recaptured the Russian consulate and a Hadi residence the Huthis had overrun, they added.
The UN this week called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen one of the “largest and most complex in the world”.
– Aid trickling in –
“Ordinary families are struggling to access healthcare, water, food and fuel — basic requirements for their survival,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw.
Aid has only trickled in, largely because of Saudi-led coalition restrictions on Yemen’s airspace and ports.
Coalition spokesman,Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri said work was under way to set up a “sea bridge” to bring aid to Yemen.
The UN agency for refugees says up to 150,000 people have been displaced over the past three weeks, while more than 300,000 have already fled their homes because of previous unrest.
The coalition has launched more than 2,000 air strikes on Yemen since its campaign began, Assiri said.
But none appear to have struck Al-Qaeda, which has exploited the conflict to seize an army camp in Hadramawt, an airport and provincial capital Mukalla.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was formed in 2009 as a merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qaeda.
Washington considers AQAP to be the jihadist network’s most dangerous branch and has targeted it over the years with scores of drone attacks.
One such attack late Saturday killed three Al-Qaeda suspects in Shabwa, a tribal chief said.